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Why Republican Bruce Starr is Out of Step With his Voters

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


This campaign season once again provides an opportunity for the Grand Old Party in Oregon. They’ve been wholly out of power in the legislature since 2006, when Democrats wrested control of the Speakership of the Oregon House.   Even with our Idaho-ish streak in the east, the population centers in the western hemisphere trend decidedly blue. I’m even willing to posit that President Obama’s slide in the polls in Oregon has more to do with progressive disappointment in his moderate-to-conservative policies than any statewide tilt to the right.

Washington County has stayed in line with the trend. Democrats and progressives enjoy a tremendous voter registration advantage over Republicans and conservatives. In fact, the county’s delegation to the Oregon Legislature has a tiny group that affiliates with the GOP, and only because most of them have a small section of their district in the county. State Sen. Bruce Starr of Hillsboro is the only Republican whose entire district rests within county borders. 

An interesting dance

Starr maintains an interesting dance with the voters in his district. Democrats hold a solid voter registration edge, which I suspect keeps him from getting too publicly cozy with most of the fringe rightwing elements of his party. Or at least he’s really good at keeping that part under wraps.  But that edge hasn’t kept Starr from pushing public policy in the legislature that kowtows to groups that seem deeply out-of-step with his constituents.

The so-called “right to life” group rates Starr at 99.09 percent. This puts him essentially in complete step with the organization. Their policy statements read like a sinister outline for a novel glorifying an authoritarian regime that subjugates women and those who are sick. The positions on birth control and our state’s Death With Dignity policy are downright draconian.

And don’t forget to check out their non-position on the death penalty, which is at best laughable and at worst deeply hypocritical.  

Prochoice constituency

In the legislature, it does seem that Starr has been more in line with this so-called “right to life” group than with those he represents.

He’s pushed waiting periods for women seeking abortions, cosponsored legislation requiring doctors to inform patients about “fetal pain” before performing an abortion, and tried to get restrictions passed against doctors who provide abortions. He’s voted at least six times against forcing health insurance coverage for birth control. He’s not exactly in line with his prochoice constituency

Starr proudly casts himself as a deciding vote against criminal background checks for all guns sales in Oregon. He’s even on the record against legislation on the matter before seeing the bill. This might sit well with the extreme fringe Oregon Firearms Association, but not so much with everyone else.  

Right now anyone, including felons, domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill, can walk into a garage sale in Oregon and buy a gun. This is a serious public safety and health problem for our state. Fixing this despite the whiny cries of “gun-grabber” from the nutty elements of the conservative fringe should be an easy call for a state senator who represents a moderate to liberal district. Not so much for Bruce Starr.

Failure to adapt

Social issues aren’t the only area where Starr’s affiliations tack to the hard right. The conveniently-named Taxpayer Association of Oregon  has a serious bromance with the senator, likely stemming from his work to make it easier for the wealthy to get out of paying taxes

Starr has been the occupant of this particular senate seat since 2003, when it was undoubtedly a more conservative place. He has, however, utterly failed to truly adapt to the political persuasions of his constituency, who’ve up until now given him a pass. Perhaps now that Democrat Chuck Riley has stepped up to the challenge, we could get something moving in the legislature on background checks and serious tax reform.

We certainly won’t see any serious work in the Oregon Senate on background checks or taxes on these issues in the Oregon Senate as long as Bruce Starr is keeping that seat warm. Here’s hoping his constituents understand that, too. 

Carla Axtman is a landscape photographer, communications expert and rabblerouser extraordinaire. You can see her work at Carla Axtman Photography.


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