SALEM — The chairman of the Oregon Republican Party announced Monday he is stepping down following an election in which the GOP saw surprisingly strong gains in the state Legislature but failed to pick up a statewide office or congressional seat.
Chairman Bob Tiernan threw his support to former gubernatorial candidate Allen Alley after serving a single two-year term in the party's top elected position.
Tiernan modernized the party, hiring new staff, boosting its online outreach efforts and launching a fundraising push that helped retire more than $200,000 in debt.
"To put it in Super Bowl terms, we were in last place and now we're in the playoffs all in two years," Tiernan said.
In November's elections, Republicans picked up eight seats in the Oregon Legislature, trampling expectations to create a 30-30 tie in the House and giving Democrats a slim 16-14 majority in Senate. The Republican victories erased Democratic supermajorities attained just two years earlier.
Democrats had enough lawmakers in both chambers to pass tax increases without any Republican support.
The GOP's gubernatorial nominee, former professional basketball player Chris Dudley, narrowly lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat John Kitzhaber despite a wave that swept Republicans to office nationwide. Still, Dudley's showing was among the strongest for Republicans in the past three decades.
Oregon hasn't elected a Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh in 1978, and the party has struggled in other statewide offices.
Tiernan said he decided months ago to step down if he could find another suitable chair, and he plans to devote more time to his consulting firm and a new position in the Navy Reserve. Tiernan is a former state lawmaker from Lake Oswego.
The unpaid chairman is responsible for hiring party staff, recruiting Republican candidates and raising money for the state party. It's the top position in the Republican Central Committee, made up of six statewide leaders and representatives from party organizations in all 36 counties.
Republican activists will elect their next chair at their Biennial Organizational Meeting Jan. 22. Alley lined up support from many of Oregon's most powerful Republicans before announcing his intention to run, grabbing endorsements from Tiernan and Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon's only Republican member of Congress.
Alley is a Lake Oswego businessman who ran for governor last year but lost in the May primary to Dudley by 7 percentage points. He was the Republican nominee for Treasurer in 2008 but fell to Democrat Ben Westlund.
"He will be faced...with the conundrum that has dogged the party for 20 years — how to convert legislative victories into statewide offices," said Jim Moore, a Pacific University political science professor.
Before his run for statewide office, Alley was a deputy chief of staff for outgoing Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski. He co-founded Pixelworks, a publicly traded semiconductor company that builds chips for high-quality televisions and other video monitors.
"The Party's values of fiscal restraint, private sector growth, transparency, and accountability are exactly in tune with the Oregon electorate," Alley said in a statement. "I am excited about bringing this message to the people of Oregon."