The Republican Party has seen a lot of changes to its public image over the last few years. Ever since the Trump administration, the Republican Party has faced numerous criticisms over its conduct following many press-heavy events such as the Capitol riots, the Dobbs V. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court Case and discussions about a federal ban on abortion, raising ire from people across the country.
In regards to Oregonian politics, especially with the gubernatorial election around the corner, it makes sense that the Republican Party in Oregon is trying to rebrand its image in an attempt to appeal to a younger generation of voters.
“The Republican Party has an image that has and is changing over time,” said Justin Hwang, the chairman of the Republican Party of Oregon. “It used to have the image of old and racist white men… The Oregon GOP in reality is not racist nor is it for old men. Half of the Oregon GOP leadership is under 40 years old and even our treasurer is under 30 years old. The Oregon GOP knows that it is important to bridge the older and younger generations as we try to reconcile their voices to do what’s best for Oregon.”
Hwang, 37, is a Gresham restaurateur who founded the Joy Teriyaki and Joy Poke restaurants. In July 2022, Hwang stepped up from Vice Chairman of the Oregon GOP to Chairman following the stepping down of the previous Chairman, Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr.
According to many gubernatorial polls, the gubernatorial candidates Tina Kotek (Democrat) and Christina Drazan (Republican) are in a very tight race, which is a surprise to many in light of Oregon’s long electoral history as a firm supporter of the Democratic Party. Polling data indicates that incumbent governor Kate Brown may be the most unpopular governor across the country, which could explain why Oregonians may be interested in moving away from 35 years of gubernatorial Democratic Leadership—a Republican governor has not been elected in Oregon since 1987 with Victor Atiyeh.
“Oregonians want change, and that’s why the Oregon GOP is changing too,” Hwang said. “We gave Democrats more than 20 years to help improve things, but there are still immediate issues that need to be solved. We’re trying to get the message across about important issues such as homeless, poverty, opioid addiction and that people can’t afford to buy a house, to name a few things. The Oregon GOP is trying to educate and help all Oregonians realize that there is more than just the way we’ve been doing it for 20-plus years. This state is 35th in education because we are always trying to lower the bar… it is time to reject the far-left agenda.”
While the Republican Party in Oregon is becoming younger, historically voters age 18–25 have consistently shown dismal turnout of just under about 50%. However, political observers note that political affiliation by generation increasingly becomes more conservative as people become older and that because they have a higher turnout rate, the strength of the GOP broadly benefits from lower turnout from younger voters, who are generally more liberal. “Frankly, it is a shame that young people are not as engaged in politics as they should be, and it shouldn’t honestly matter if we [Oregon GOP] benefit from that or not,” Hwang said.
“Education is needed and information is a right for young people for them to be engaged,” Hwang said. “I have faith as a Republican that what we’re doing is right for Oregon and I have faith that many young people like myself can also see that what we’re doing is right for Oregon.”
Hwang has been very active in his campaigns to rally Republican support in Oregon to vote in this upcoming election. “I’m not spending enough time with my wife,” Hwang joked. “This job is killing me.” In one of Hwang’s campaign speeches, Hwang encouraged the audience to vote and told them that he is going to “win every damn race in Oregon.” There is also an Instagram post on Hwang’s page with a caption that reads, “Oregonians will reject the far left agenda this November,” and “Oregonians are ready for change!” With the amount of activity over attempting to persuade Oregon voters to the Republican cause, Hwang explained to Vanguard his commitment to enthusiastic campaigning. “We have to win to do a lot of good things,” he said. “Oregonians want change and the Oregon GOP is ready to give that opportunity. We’re [Oregon GOP] young and we have the energy to do good things for this state.”