PSU’s conservative uprising

College Republicans are coming together, getting organized and raising their voices at Portland State University with an ambitious new president and dedicated staff, a growing membership and a flurry of Republican activity.

This is no small feat in the heart of a highly divisive election on a campus one College Republican, who wished to remain anonymous, calls "predominantly Democratic."

She said she joined the Republican group to have a political voice of her own. Even though in the beginning of the school year there was hardly anyone, she said, more people are joining in as they become aware of the group.

"It’s interesting to see who comes out of the woodwork," she said.

"We’re a minority," said Robert Hyett, who was among the first members this year, sometimes alone at the group’s table near the beginning of the term. This is precisely how the group got started, with just a table on campus attended by a regional representative from the College Republicans National Committee and a couple of determined students.

According to Hyett, many of the students who approached the table to sign up were surprised to learn of the group and made comments like, "I thought I was the only Republican on campus."

The College Republicans’ secretary, 18-year-old Amanda Newberg, said she joined because she felt like everything was too biased to the left on campus when she arrived for her freshman year this fall. "I didn’t feel like it was my voice," she said. "I think there should be more of a balance in between."

In the first week of school the group managed to collect nearly 200 names of interested students, which is twice the amount on a list provided by one of the leaders of last year’s group, which started up but died out.

Hyett attributes the heightened interest in the group this year to the divisive nature of the upcoming election and its reflective atmosphere on campus. "People have had to make a decision on where they stand," he said. "It’s either one or the other."

The divisiveness has also likely contributed to the hostility the group has been experiencing from some of the many students on campus who oppose the group’s ideology.

Last Tuesday afternoon, the group was tabling between the Smith Center and Cramer Hall in an effort to increase membership and encourage the Republican vote for President Bush. As numerous students scurried by during a busy 10-minute break between classes, one student stopped and began shouting at the Republicans, calling them "soulless." Students all around paused and quieted a moment. Then another student grabbed a cardboard cutout of President Bush that the group had posted up next to its table and sped off with it. Cheers of encouragement erupted.

"It’s stuff like that that’s so bothersome," said the group’s new president, Brian Danielson. He was also among the founding students this year, and said that during the first week of school he was wearing a Bush-Cheney shirt and had a handful of rotten berries thrown on him.

Hyett said it is unfortunate that there is not more tolerance for opposing ideology on campus, and adds that Republicans in particular have to repeatedly bear the brunt of anti-Bush comments and other little jokes, which are even made by professors during class. "Members have stories, and stories, and stories," Hyett said. "It’s something that’s wrong on campus."

One of the group’s goals is to increase tolerance for their ideology by putting themselves out there and opening up a dialogue, Hyett said. "A lot of people like to classify us as whatever they think Republicans are, but a lot of us are pretty moderate Republicans and if they engaged us in conversation with civility, they would find we have more in common than they would otherwise think."

Hyett wants to make it clear that, "yeah, we’re all Republicans, but we’re spread out as far as values that are embraced."

"I voted against Measure 36," Hyett said. "So, we’re not completely one-sided with respect to social issues."

For now though, the group is currently focusing its efforts on something all its members can agree on: the importance of getting Bush re-elected. Hyett said they are trying to volunteer for both the Washington and Multnomah County Republican Headquarters as much as possible before the election. They will be canvassing this Saturday to get the Republican vote out.

The group has also been active in a number of other events just to get involved and make its presence known. Members held a party on campus for each of the presidential debates with a turnout of about 35 at the last debate. They also attended a local debate at the Roseland, which was endorsed by the Willamette Week, in order to support Republican congressional candidate Goli Ameri, who did not actually show up. "I could understand her decision not to go," said Hyett. "It was even more one-sided than this campus."

About 40 Republicans also turned out to see Michael Moore on campus last week, so that it would not just be an abundance of left-leaning students. Hyett said that many of the young Republicans held signs and chanted "four more years," but only during pauses in the speech so as not to interrupt. Still, he added, "I’ve never seen so many middle fingers in all my life; it was a sea of sneers."

According to their three-week-old website, which is maintained by Hyett and updated almost daily, the group also has a number of "flagrantly Republican" activities planned for after the election, including conservative film nights, "National Support Big Tobacco Day" and "Second Amendment Night."

They are also holding regular meetings on campus every Thursday at 4 p.m. Though the first meeting’s turnout was relatively small, each has subsequently increased in size, with approximately 15 people attending October 21. Hyett said there have even been a couple of active Democrats at their meetings, but that they were "very respectful" and are more than welcome, "as long as they’re nice."

The group held their first meeting Oct. 1. Officers were elected at a meeting yesterday, replacing officers elected in the group’s first election Oct. 7.

Danielson replaced Hyett as the group’s president, Newberg was elected secretary and Mario Campbell as treasurer. The meetings are still largely focused on just getting the group organized and established, but Hyett said that they will expand in scope with time to include discussions on important issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research.

As far as funding for the group goes, Hyett said they missed out on it because they failed to attend an orientation with the Student Organization Council (SOC), which allocates funding for many student groups. Nevertheless, the College Republicans did meet the deadline to request funds should there be any left over, and have asked for $815. According to Hyett, no one in the group currently receives a salary or stipend of any kind; all officers are volunteers.