Oregon Citizens Alliance
The Oregon Citizens Alliance is a far-right politcal/relgious group which has tried to use Oregon's ballot inittive proccess to push their radical-rght agenda with mixed results.
The Oregon Citizens Alliance OCA) was founded in 1987 as a spin-off of the 1986 Senate campaign of Joe Lutz, a fundamentalist preacher who wrested 42 percent of the Republican primary vote from pro-choice incumbent Bob Packwood.
Lon Mabon, Lutz's campaign manager for the southern third of the state, became OCA chairman, and several other campaign aides assumed leading roles in the organization. Early OCA organizing efforts included opposition to state-aided pre-school as "anti-family" opposition to parental leave as "anti-business" and opposition to divestment in South African as "harmful" to South African blacks. These early campaigns were relatively unsuccessful in in influencing the political debate or in building the OCA as an organization.
The OCA got its first big opening in Oregon's biennial 1987 legislative session "conservative" religious leaders sought out Mabon and the OCA's help to defeat gay rights legislation that would have banned job and housing discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Then in 1988 Governor Neil Goldschmidt issued Executive Order 87-20 which banned state agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. The OCA immediately set about the task of collecting the 63,000 signatures required to place an initiative on the November ballot to overturn the governor’s order. Mobilizing its pre-existing network of volunteers and exploiting the emotional appeal of the issue within the broader evangelical community, the OCA successfully collected more than 100,000 signatures and its anti-gay measure was put on the ballot. The measure passed with a statewide vote of 53 percent to 47 percent, and the OCA emerged from the heated and highly publicized campaign as the undisputed champion of Christian conservatism in the state and a force to be reckoned with in Oregon politics.
Following the victory of its anti-gay measure, the OCA turned its attention to the issue of legalized abortion. Within weeks of the Supreme Court’s 1989 Webster decision that opened the door for individual states to impose limits on the right to abortion, the OCA led a petition to put a measure on the November, 1990, ballot to ban abortion in all cases except for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Working in coalition with a number of other anti-abortion groups, the OCA had little difficulty gathering the necessary signatures to put the measure on the ballot. The initiative was eventually defeated by 68 percent to 32 percent (a ratio of two-to-one), but the OCA nevertheless gained in influence and visibility in the process. In the same election the OCA also sponsored a spoiler third-party campaign by its vice-chairman, Al Mobley, to punish the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Dave Frohnmayer, for not taking anti-gay and anti-abortion positions. The Mobley campaign garnered 13 percent of the vote, throwing the election to the Democratic candidate Barbara Roberts (despite her minority showing) and sending shock-waves through the state Republican establishment.
The central figure in the OCA is Lon Mabon, a born-again Christian who was recruited to the Pentecostal faith by the countercultural Jesus movement in the early 1970s. The OCA operates virtually as a Mabon family business, with Lon, his wife, and both his parents on the OCA payroll, as well as three children who work for the organization.
The OCA claims a dues-paying membership of between 3,000 and 10,000 according to different newspaper accounts (our data suggest that the first figure is closer to the truth) and a mailing list of 160,000 households (which may also be an inflated figure). The OCA has extensive ties with fundamentalist and Pentecostal/charismatic churches across the state and operates local chapters in all but a few Oregon counties.
In 1990, the group rallied behind the abortion issue, placing a strict pro-life constitutional amendment on the ballot, only seeing it fail at the polls 68 percent to 32 percent.
During the early 1990s the OCA served as the official Oregon affiliate of the Christian Coalition, the largest and most powerful national "Christian"-Right organization. An autonomous statewide Christian Coalition group was formed in 1993, but ties between the two organizations remain strong.
Since its founding, the OCA has worked at the precinct and county levels to establish itself as the dominant force in Oregon Republican Party politics. Mobilization at the precinct level enabled the OCA and its Christian Coalition allies to dominate the state's delegation to the 1996 Republican National Convention. Several times in recent years the OCA and its allies have come close to winning control of the Oregon Republican Party state central committee, losing narrowly in each instance as a result of internal divisions and the opposition of more moderate elements within the party.
The OCA political agenda encompasses a range of traditional right-wing issues, including anti-communism, support for militarism, promotion of business interests, opposition to government regulation, and opposition to welfare spending. However, most of these issues have been little publicized in the face that the OCA presents to the public. Like many Christian Right groups in an era in which anti-communism no longer serves as an effective mobilizing ideology, the OCA has targeted emotionally charged social issue "especially abortion and gay rights" as its chief means of attracting money and members, keeping itself in the media spotlight, and driving a wedge into traditional partisan alignments.
For much of its existence, the OCA has concentrated on the issue of gay rights as its main vehicle of organizational growth. Apart from occasional, politically safe, campaigns (such as organizing rallies to support American troops during the Persian Gulf War), the OCA has directed virtually all of its public outreach since the failed 1990 anti-abortion ballot initiative to the campaign against gay rights.
The most highly publicized of these early efforts was a 1992 ballot initiative, Measure 9 that would have amended the state constitution to:
- Stigmatize homosexuality as "abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse"
- Ban the use of state or local government moneys or facilities from any activity that treated homosexuality in a neutral or positive fashion
- Prohibit civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation.
The initiative was defeated by a margin of 55 to 45 social base of new christian right activism percent, although majorities in 21 of Oregon's 36 counties supported the measure and several local ordinances patterned after the statewide initiative were approved by voters.
Despite these setbacks at the statewide level, the OCA was able to sustain itself for several years through its successful sponsorship of anti-gay initiatives at the city and county levels. Most importantly, these victories gave the OCA a much-needed boost in the arm, demonstrating to activists that anti-gay initiatives could win in much of the state. These measures were also adopted in the face of opposition from the governor's office and the state legislature. In July 1993, the legislature passed and the governor signed HB 3500 which rendered unenforceable all local initiatives that prohibited the protection of gay rights. OCA immediately filed suit against the law, but eventually lost in the Oregon Court of Appeals in 1995.
Despite their unenforceability, these local initiatives proved of significant symbolic value for Oregon's anti-gay rights movement in 1993-94. They kept the issue on the front burner of the conservative agenda and showed the continuing grassroots appeal of the OCA and its message. This sense of advancing strength helped organizers greatly during the 1994 campaign for Measure 13, another state-wide initiative.
A slightly watered down version of the OCA's earlier Measure 9 statewide anti-gay initiative was put forward. In November 1994, buoyed by a national conservative resurgence in the House mid-term elections, Measure 13 nearly passed, failing by only 37,000 votes, or in percentage terms, 48.5 to 51.5 percent and majorities in 25 of the state's 36 counties.
By the late 1990s, however, the power and influence of the organization began to wane. Negative publicity surrounding the OCA's attacks on gay rights led Republican politicians who had formerly courted OCA endorsement to distance themselves from the controversial organization.
Mabon promised that OCA would return with yet another measure in 1996, to push the initiative over the top. But conservatives leaders within Oregon -- witnessing the divisiveness of OCA campaigns -- began to question the political efficacy of OCA's movement. State Senate leader Gordon Smith, a Republican businessman from Eastern Oregon who sought out OCA's support during his losing campaign for Bob Packwood's resigned U.S. Senate seat, turned against the OCA a few months later during his primary campaign for retiring Senator Mark Hatfield's seat.
Mabon responded by attacking those who urged compromise on him. As Republican leaders abandoned Mabon and the OCA, it became clear that the group's success with Measure 13 had been the high water mark of its statewide support. Within two years, divisions in the Republican party -- and, increasingly, hostility among conservative religious activists in Oregon against Mabon's imperious and uncompromising attitudes -- spelled a drastic fall for the OCA.
OCA plans for their promised statewide anti-gay initiative in 1996 were abandoned following the Supreme Court's overturning of a similar Colorado law, and the humiliating primary defeat of Lon Mabon's quixotic bid for the Republican Senate nomination against Gordon Smith that year garnered only 8 percent of the vote. A proposed initiative banning same-sex marriages failed to receive sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot in 1998, as did a second OCA-sponsored measure banning late-term abortions.
In the late 90s the OCA began pinning its revival hopes on sponsorship of an initiative for the 2000 general election that would prohibit Oregon public schools from discussing homosexuality "in a manner which encourages, promotes or sanctions such behaviors."
Oregon Citizens Alliance
P.O. Box 9276
Brooks, OR 97305
Phone: (503) 463-0653
Fax: (503) 463-8745
- Oregon Citizens Alliance - official site
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