Oregon group launches PAC targeting only pro-choice Republican lawmaker

Oregon’s leading anti-abortion organization and a Lane County resident are launching an effort to unseat the only legislative Republican who supports abortion rights. 

The political director of Oregon Right to Life and a former Springfield school board candidate filed paperwork Tuesday to create the Charlie Conrad You Are Out PAC, with a purpose of “educating the public of Representative Conrad’s failures as a legislator and dedicated to ensuring he never represents House District 12 voters again.”

Conrad, a first-term representative and former police officer from rural Lane County, earned the ire of some conservative constituents for voting with Democrats to pass a bill intended to guarantee access to abortion and gender-affirming care and protect Oregon doctors from prosecution for providing such care to people from states that banned procedures.

He’s also the only current GOP legislator who supports abortion rights, a position held by about 42% of Republican voters. 

Violet Olszyk, a Springfield caregiver who lost a school board election in May, and Sharolyn Smith, political director of Oregon Right to Life, formed the committee. 

“Voters in east Lane County are appalled by the speed at which Representative Charlie Conrad rushed to embrace the most anti-family agenda in the nation,” Olszyk said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle. “As soon as he’s done with this disastrous legislative session we’ll be here to tell him, ‘Sorry Charlie, you’re out.’”

Conrad narrowly won a four-person Republican primary last year, edging out anti-vaccine advocate Nicole De Graff by just 99 votes. He sailed to victory in the general election, winning more than 57% of the vote over Democrat Michelle Emmons, and the district is considered fairly safe for Republicans. 

It has an almost even three-way split of registered Republicans, Democrats and non-affiliated voters. Conrad said he heard from constituents who agreed with his vote on the abortion bill and others who opposed it. 

Conrad told the Capital Chronicle he wasn’t surprised by the effort to unseat him. He expected a primary challenge, and he said he remains focused on policies that would benefit his district. 

“I know I will be primaried, and I know there will be people against me,” he said. “For some people, all that matters is that vote.”

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.