Oregon GOP delegates make the trip to New York

People traveling 3,000 miles for a political convention often are accused of being married to politics.

In the case of Oregon’s 59-member delegation to the 2004 Republican National Convention, many are also married to each other.

One-third of the Oregonians heading to New York City as delegates or alternates are husband-and-wife duos. Three of the 10 couples are from Salem.

“We’re a family-oriented party,” said Russ Walker, a delegate from Keizer and Northwest director for the political group Citizens for a Sound Economy/FreedomWorks.

“I see what he does every day and it makes me want to get involved,” said his wife, Lisa Walker, who is relishing her first convention in an official capacity.

The Walkers are most excited about hearing President George W. Bush’s acceptance speech, when he’ll share his vision and initiatives for his hoped-for second term in office.

They also don’t want to miss keynote speeches by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Among the many receptions to pick from, they hope to attend parties hosted by the Christian Coalition and the National Federation of Independent Business.

There’s little formal business to decide among GOP delegates, but the Walkers hope to do some networking to aid their party’s campaign back in Oregon.

They hope to recruit volunteers from Utah and other states where there are no close races. Local party members will host out-of-state Republicans in their homes, in exchange for helping with the Bush campaign here.

The Walkers are leaving their three children at home with grandparents and are heading to New York early to do some sightseeing. They plan to attend the Broadway production of Aida with the rest of the Oregon delegation.

“It’s really fun to get to know the delegation better,” Lisa Walker said.

A family affair

Darrell and Kelly Fuller of Salem will bring their 7-year-old daughter and soon-to-be 9-year-old son with them, hoping they’ll catch their parents’ political bug.

“For me, it’s a chance to show our children a little about the political process,” said Kelly Fuller, a law clerk for the Oregon Republican Party and for party chairman Kevin Mannix’s law firm.

“They’ll do all the events that we do,” said Darrell Fuller, a lobbyist for the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association. “It’s a great way to sort of celebrate our two-party system and our unique American system.”

It’s Darrell’s fourth GOP national convention and Kelly’s third. They relish getting energized for party work back home and seeing prominent politicians up close.

Their fondest convention memory is from 1996, when they mosied over to the Texas delegation to get a peek at a rising force in the party — then-Gov. George W. Bush. They had their 11-month-son in tow, who was sucking on a pacifier that read “Read my lips.”

When Bush noticed the pacifier with the infamous slogan that got his father in political hot water, he couldn’t resist. He reached over to pick up baby Daniel to pose for a photograph.

“He said, ‘We’ve got to get our picture taken; that’s hilarious,’” Kelly said.

Darrell, an avid collector of political buttons and other memorabilia, expects to add to his collection.

Kelly plans to attend a Faith, Family and Freedom Rally at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, an event for Christian conservatives.

“The other one I will be going to, without Darrell, is W Stands for Women,” she said. Featured speakers include the president’s wife, Laura Bush, and his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Republican leaders will stress a more moderate image at the convention, in an appeal to more centrist voters. Though the views of moderates like Schwarzenegger are at odds with many conservative party activists, his speech is expected to be a highlight.

“I don’t know of a single person that’s attending that doesn’t want to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech,” Darrell said.

The Fullers also will make time for sightseeing. They plan to visit the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Coney Island, and the site where the twin towers once stood. They will consult a travel guidebook by Salem restaurateur and author Gerry Frank. His book, “Where to Find it, Buy it, Eat it in New York,” is being provided to every delegate at the convention, Darrell said.

Competition keen

It’s been more than a quarter-century since there was any doubt heading into a political convention about who would win the nomination. That was at the 1976 Republican convention in Kansas City, Mo., when Ronald Reagan backers hoped to snare the nomination from sitting President Gerald Ford.

Despite the lack of drama this year, more than 140 Republicans vied for seats in Oregon’s delegation in New York City, said Dawn Phillips, party spokeswoman. Republicans gathered at five sites, one in each congressional district, to select delegates. Some provided two-minute videos promoting their candidacies, as a way to campaign for votes at sites where they couldn’t be present.

Competition was fiercest in the Salem area. Of the 59 delegates and alternates, 15 are from Marion and Polk counties — fully one-fourth of those going to New York.

“There was just a lot of interest down there; a lot of people ran,” Phillips said.

Ultimately, 28 were chosen as delegates and 28 as alternates. The delegates get prime seats, but otherwise there’s little distinction between the two this time.

“The alternates get to do everything that the delegates do, except vote on bylaws and procedural stuff,” Phillips said. Often the delegates will lend their floor passes to alternates.

Minorities make up about 10 percent of the delegation. There will be three African-Americans, one Hispanic and two Chinese-Americans.

In addition to the 56 delegates and alternates, three party officials attend automatically: chairman Kevin Mannix, national committeewoman June Hartley and national committeeman Solomon Yue.

Solomon and Ourania Yue

This will be the second national GOP convention for Solomon and Ourania Yue, both party activists from West Salem.

Ourania has accompanied her husband at several national committee meetings when he was on official business. Now she gets to leave the “peanut gallery” and be a full participant, she said.

Solomon, who became a millionaire businessman after emigrating from the Peoples Republic of China, said it’s helpful to share first-hand experiences from conventions with party members back home.

“It’s very, very important to bring back that kind of energy to Oregon, so we will be able to energize our base and deliver Oregon in November,” he said.

Solomon is most eager to hear Bush’s acceptance speech. “What he wants to do in the next four years will be very exciting for me,” he said.

Ourania, who emigrated from Greece, has a different tourist itinerary than most Oregon visitors. She’s in the middle of reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton, the founding father from New York and the nation’s first treasury secretary.

“I’m going to see his grave at the cemetery,” she said.

The Yues have already seen Aida, so they won’t join fellow Oregon Republicans at that production. Instead, they’ll take in The Wonderful Town, another Broadway play.

slaw@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6615