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Despite the valiant efforts of unions, immigrant rights and progressive groups, nativists successfully led an effort to repeal hard-fought legislation to provide driver cards to undocumented immigrants in Oregon.

IREHR examines the behind-the-scenes political committees, uncovers the network of anti-immigrant and Tea Party groups in the state, and follows the money to find out how nativists were victorious in Oregon. We also look at what the nativist victory portends for national immigration reform in 2015 and beyond.

Dissecting the Nativist Victory in Oregon

In last Tuesday’s general election, Oregon voters rejected a bi-partisan law that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver cards. Oregon’s State Ballot Measure No. 88 which would have provided “Oregon resident ‘driver card’ without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States,” was defeated 66.27% to 33.73% according to unofficial election results from the Oregon Secretary of State.

National commentators have continually asserted that the 2012 election results made comprehensive immigration reform “inevitable.” How, then, did this popular piece of common sense legislation become so reviled?

The answer: anti-immigrant groups and Tea Party nativists saw an opportunity out west, and they pounced.

For the last three decades, the anti-immigrant establishment has parlayed state-level electoral victories during the mid-terms into national efforts to block humane immigration reform. In 1994, California voters approved anti-immigrant Proposition 187, which would have prohibited undocumented immigrants from public education and social services had it not been found unconstitutional. In 2004, Arizona passed the similarly nativist Proposition 200. This year, Oregon joins that list.

Like the efforts in 1994 and 2004, state and national nativist groups saw the bill as a vehicle to reclaim momentum for the anti-immigrant crusade. The Oregon campaign was not only part of a strategy to block all pro-immigrant legislation at the state and local level, it was part of a well-worn strategy of using state victories to change the national conversation in a more nativist direction.

Given the history of anti-immigrant ballot measures tilting the national conversation, the nativist victory in Oregon does not augur well for immigration reform in the near term.

Behind the No on Measure 88 campaign

The Oregon saga began on May 1, 2013, when Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed into law Senate Bill 833, a bipartisan measure that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain a card, allowing them to legally drive in the state.

Supporters of the bill celebrated on the streets during the annual pro-immigrant May Day celebrations around the state. They had successfully campaigned for a law that they argued would make streets safer by getting people to learn the rules of the road and get insurance. Driver cards could not be used to vote, get government benefits, board a plane, or buy firearms.

The popular bill passed the Oregon House with 38 “yes” votes (including 5 Republicans), 20 “no” votes, and 2 representatives who did not vote. In the state Senate, the bill passed with 20 “yes” votes (including 6 Republicans), to just 7 “no” votes and 3 senators who did not vote.

Almost immediately, two different committees came forward to push an effort to repel SB 833, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses and Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR).

Oregonians for Immigration Reform

The public face of the nativist campaign was Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR). The group is both a 501(c)4 non-profit organization and an Oregon-registered Political Action Committee.

The current incarnation of Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) was established by Jim Ludwick, Frank Brehm and Elizabeth Van Staaveren. Two of the three founders of OFIR have been disturbingly close to racist groups.

For the past decade, retired McMinnville resident, Elizabeth Van Staaveren, has almost single-handedly kept the doors of a North Carolina racist anti-immigrant group open. Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports show that, from 2005 to the present, Van Staaveren contributed an astonishing $43,500 to the racist group, ALIPAC. William Gheen, the founder and sole employee of ALIPAC, has stated that violence may be necessary to “save white America” and made many other racist remarks. Van Staaveren has been, by far, the largest contributor to the racist group.

Before the formation of OFIR in January 2000, Frank Brehm ran another group with the same name, but a slightly different acronym, Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OIR). For several years, OIR’s website was hosted with the hardcore white nationalist group, New Nation News.

New Nation News is an unabashed white nationalist site for racist “news,” where headlines include terms like “vile jew,” “ni***r,” “Mexiroach,” “illegal mud,” “beaner,” and more. Though concern about Brehm’s ties to the racist group have been repeated raised, OFIR kept him on as webmaster and a board member for eleven years.

The ties between racist groups and Oregonians for Immigration Reform are not just individual, like those of Van Staaveren and Brehm, they are organizationally embedded.   

Since 2001, OFIR has been one of the core local groups of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR celebrated the relationship in its 2001 annual report, “FAIR is pleased to announce a new addition to our growing movement, Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR). OFIR’s leaders, Jim Ludwick and Frank Brehm, are capable, dedicated activists whose credentials include lobbying in Washington against the expansion of the H-1B program.”

Founded in 1979, FAIR is the oldest and most notorious organization in the modern anti-immigrant establishment. The group has a long legacy of racism. FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has made numerous racist comments, such as "I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that." FAIR has also accepted more than $1.2 million in contributions from the Pioneer Fund, a group established to promote eugenics and “race science.”

OFIR’s current president, Cynthia Kendoll, has re-affirmed the group’s cozy relationship with FAIR. In fact, since becoming president in 2013, Kendoll has regularly participated in FAIR events, including attending the 2013 “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” conference, and a September 2014 FAIR border event.

She also spoke at an October writer’s workshop of nativist The Social Contract, a publication edited by white nationalist, Wayne Lutton. Like Lutton, Kendoll has expressed her brand of nativism in cultural terms. She told Willamette Week that, “We are told all the time that people come here and want to become Americans. I don’t think they’re interested in becoming U.S. citizens. It’s just an organized assault on our culture.”

FAIR isn’t the only part of the national anti-immigrant establishment OFIR toiled alongside. During the height of the nativist vigilante craze, the group worked with the Minutemen.

In the mid-2000’s, OFIR partnered with the Oregon chapter of the nativist vigilante Minuteman Civil Defense Corps to harass day laborers around the state. OFIR also participated in a rally with Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project in Eugene, Oregon. As David Neiwert documented in his book, And Hell Followed With Her, in 2009 three members of a Minuteman group (one of them from Oregon) brutally murdered Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, at their home in Arivaca, Arizona.

As hard as OFIR leaders have tried to sweep away questions about racism, the problem hasn’t gone away. In July, white nationalist members of the group American Freedom Party attended an OFIR rally in Salem. At the rally, one American Freedom Party activist told a local news crew, “Keep Mexicans in Mexico. Keep European-Americans here, where we are, in our homeland… I think it’s OK for us to be proud that this is our territory.”

As IREHR first documented in the special report, Beyond FAIR: The Decline of the Anti-Immigrant Establishment and the Rise of Tea Party Nativism, leaders in Oregonians for Immigration Reform were among the earliest nativist groups to actively engage in the Tea Party movement.

To further their political work promoting anti-immigrant ballot measures and candidates, OFIR formed the Oregonians for Immigration Reform PAC in December 2003, according to Oregon Secretary of State. But records show that prior to 2013, the OFIR PAC had little sign of activity. The last time it engaged electorally was during the 2008 general election it supported Measure 58, a failed ballot measure that would have prohibited teaching public school student in language other than English for more than two years. Measure 58 was supported by OFIR, FreedomWorks, and Oregon Taxpayers United. In the 2013-2014 period, the OFIR PAC raised just $23,758.

While it’s still unclear how much money flowed into OFIR’s 501(c)4 operation, the amount their PAC declared suggests that by-and-large the nativist campaign was not a big-money media campaign. It relied substantially on the core of nativists OFIR built across the state and the network of Tea Party groups in the state.

Protect Oregon Driver Licenses

While OFIR was the public face, the behind-the-scenes work, including getting the measure on the ballot, was done by the OFIR-tied political committee, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses.

The committee, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses, was formed just nine days after SB 833 was signed into law, according to records on file with the Oregon Secretary of State. It was formed by Lyneil Vandermolen, of Tualatin, Oregon.  Vandermolen is a board member and vice president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform.

Vandermolen has also been involved in the Tea Party movement. She is member of the Patriot Action Network, a national Tea Party faction known for Islamophobia and militia mongering, and was a member of the now defunct Oregon Tea Party. She is also listed as a leader in the far-right coalition, Grassroots for Liberty, which serves as the Oregon base of the Texas Tea Party voter suppression outfit, True the Vote.

Vandermolen’s cause extends well beyond narrow public policy concerns over DMV regulations. Like the Tea Party faction she joined, Vandermolen has publically expressed a virulent brand of nativism, telling The Oregonian that there is a cultural difference between the European immigrants of the past and the illegal immigrants of today, because "Europeans worked hard to be American, to learn English." Today, she said, the motivation to assimilate is missing. "Latinos, they’re the biggest group, but also the Muslims. These cultures," she said, "are interested in assimilating us."

Committee finance records show that Vandermolen is aided by Lori Piercy. The Rainer, Oregon conservative activist serves as a campaign finance reporter preparer for numerous conservative groups in the state, including the Oregon Liberty PAC and the Conservative Republican Defense Fund. In 2007, Piercy was recalled by voters from her position as president of the Clatskanie People’s Utility District, after allegations of mismanagement emerged.

Also listed are the three “chief petitioners” for the citizens veto measure: Richard F. LaMountain, Kim Thatcher, and Sal Esquivel. Two of the three are state legislators. All three have far-right ties.

Richard F. LaMountain, served on the board of directors of Oregonians for Immigration Reform between 2009 and 2013 and was an OFIR vice president. He has also been a regular contributor to the white nationalist publication, Middle American News. LaMountain has also written letters to the editor to Willis Carto’s racist and anti-Semitic tabloid American Free Press. In late 2014 he started writing for the white nationalist website, VDARE.

Another primary petitioner is new state senator, Kim Thatcher. Thatcher is both a member of FreedomWorks and part of FAIR’s nativist front-group, State Legislators for Legal Immigration. In the state legislature, Thatcher sponsored several anti-immigrant bills. Despite a scandal which found that Thatcher’s closely held construction company destroyed evidence and engaged in a cover-up to fend off efforts to investigate allegations of state contracting fraud, she was elected to the state Senate (Dist. 13) during the general election, after serving as a state representative.

The third chief petitioner was Sal Esquivel a six-term state representative in Oregon’s 5th District, representing Medford. Rep. Esquivel is a Tea Party nativist. He’s been a feature at Tea Party events in Southern Oregon. He’s repeatedly introduced anti-immigrant legislation. He even shared the stage with noted racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a nativist “Stand with Arizona” rally to support the controversial “papers please” law, SB 1070.

To finance the initial effort to get the measure on the ballot, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses raised $10,935 in cash and $128,340.98 in in-kind contributions. Unlike in Arizona’s Proposition 200 campaign, where national anti-immigrant groups were forced to spend $410,500 to pay for last-minute signature gatherers when local efforts sputtered, in Oregon much of the money to pay for signature gatherers came from one man—the state’s Koch brother wannabe.

Loren Parks, a Nevada resident who owns a medical equipment business in Aloha, Oregon, funded much of the signature gathering. Like the billionaire Koch Brothers, Parks was also born in Wichita, Kansas. While Parks doesn’t have as big a bankroll as his fellow hometown oligarchs, Parks has a long history of financing conservative causes in Oregon. In fact, the Oregonian noted that Parks has given more money to electoral campaigns than any other individual in state history.

Even before there was the Tea Party movement, Parks was a significant contributor to the national Tea Party faction, FreedomWorks. Common Cause noted that between 2004 and 2008, Parks donated more than half a million dollars to FreedomWorks. In 2008 and 2013, Parks also funded anti-union ballot initiatives in Oregon.

To kick start the anti-immigrant ballot measure, Parks made in-kind contributions totaling $98,173.58 to Protect Oregon Driver Licenses between August and October 2013, according to campaign finance records. Much of the in-kind support was for signature gathering.

Parks wasn’t the only early funder, however.

Longtime FAIR board member, Henry Buhl, contributed $500 to Protect Oregon Driver Licenses.

OFIR co-founder, Elizabeth Van Staaveren also contributed $5000 to Protect Oregon Driver Licenses.

Another big early donor was Brian Puziss of Portland, Oregon. He contributed $2500 in the early months of the petition gathering drive. Puziss was a financial supporter of Tea Party PACs and Tea Party candidates, including the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, the Our Country Deserves Better PAC –, the Ted Cruz Victory Committee and Matt Bevin for Senate.

In October 2013, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses submitted 70,973 referendum petition signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The measure barely qualified for the ballot. Only 58,291 signatures were validated, just 149 signatures over the necessary 58,142 needed to qualify.

Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee

After signatures were verified and the measure was on the ballot, the initial committee, Protect Oregon Driver Licenses, was discontinued and a new one, the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee was formed on January 4, 2014.
The new committee included Piercy as secretary, and several familiar names. The committee’s directors are listed as OFIR president Cynthia Kendoll and OFIR board member, Lee Vasche.

Retired Salem real estate agent, Kate Jaudes, is listed as the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee alternate transaction filer. Jaudes is an activist with the Tea Party-aligned Americans for Prosperity, serving as communications coordinator for the local AFP chapter. She was named AFP’s “activist of the month” in May 2011. Her husband, Paul Jaudes, is head of the Marion County chapter of AFP. 

The Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee raised $55,732 in contributions in 2014.

While national nativist groups didn’t dump big money into Oregon like they did previously in California and Arizona, that doesn’t mean that nativists didn’t provide support for the ballot measure campaign during the run-up to the election.

The oldest and most notorious nativist group in the country, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, contributed $3500 to the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee. FAIR also deployed field, state legislative, and media teams to help “state immigration reform activists in their efforts to educate Oregon voters about the issues and the dangers of granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens,” according the FAIR’s newsletter.

FAIR’s allies also chipped in to help fund and aid the Protect Drive Licenses Committee.

Ben Zuckerman, the UCLA professor who helped lead the Tanton-backed nativist attempt to take over the board of the Sierra Club, contributed $200. In addition to working with the nativist front-group Sierrans for US Population Stabilization, Zuckerman has worked closely with national nativist groups. He served as vice-president of Californians for Population Stabilization, is a member on the statistical oversight board of NumbersUSA, and sat on the advisory board of another nativist front-group, Progressives for Immigration Reform.

Deborah Rohe, wife of long-time Tanton confederate John Rohe, contributed $200 to the committee. John Rohe currently serves as vice president of the Colcom Foundation, the largest funder of anti-immigrant establishment groups in the country. John Rohe even wrote the fawning Tanton biography, Mary Lou and John Tanton: A Journey into American Conservation. Rohe dedicated the book to his wife, Debbie.

Another notable out-of-state nativist contributing to the Protect Oregon Driver Licenses Committee was Paul Nachman. The Bozeman, Montana nativist activist contributed $3220. Nachman is a regular contributor to the white nationalist website VDARE, where, among other things, he has referred to the burning of Korans as an “educational demonstration.” Nachman also runs the anti-immigrant group Montanans for Immigration Law Enforcement, and nativist front-group, Scientists and Environmentalists for Population Stabilization. He’s also a blogger for the nativist group Californians for Population Stabilization.

The Protect Oregon Driver Licenses website was created by longtime nativist activist and Tanton ally, Fred Elbel, the principle force behind Sierrans for US Population Stabilization, and head of the nativist group Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform. (Elbel also did the latest website for Oregonians for Immigration Reform).

Impacting the National Conversation

The cacophony of anti-immigrant leaders attempting to use the Oregon victory to declare a national mandate for their type of immigration policy is growing.

Michelle Malkin, the nativist columnist popular for such works as, In Defense of Internment, was among the first to push the argument, “Enough is enough. An important bloc of voters made their voices heard on Tuesday. Their message: Quit rewarding people who violate our immigration laws. They chose a sovereign nation over an illegal alien sanctuary nation, and they told politicians in both parties loud and clear: Put Americans first.”

Each time the anti-immigrant establishment achieved an electoral victory at the state level, they have used it to claim a mandate for further federal immigration restriction. While some immigrant rights advocates hold out hope for President Obama providing some form of administrative relief to undocumented immigrants, supporters of human rights should also prepare for an entirely predictable nativist surge following the election results.

Devin Burghart

Author Devin Burghart

is vice president of IREHR. He coordinates our Seattle office, directs our research efforts, and manages our online communications. He has researched, written, and organized on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism since 1992, and is internationally recognized for this effort. Devin is frequently quoted as an expert by print, broadcast, and online media outlets. In 2007, he was awarded a Petra Foundation fellowship. more...

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