Conservative communications maven Jonathan Lockwood shakes up Oregon statehouse with pugnacious approach
Author: Ernest Luning - August 12, 2017 - Updated: August 18, 2017
After cutting a provocative path though Colorado’s political scene for half a decade, conservative spinmeister Jonathan Lockwood pulled up stakes and decamped for a strange land with strange customs, a place unaccustomed to his rapid-fire, unrelenting attacks on liberals and his take-no-prisoners approach to making a point — a place called Oregon.
Unlike swing-state Colorado, Oregon is ruled by Democrats, Lockwood noted with a rueful chuckle in a recent interview with Colorado Politics. And most of the time they don’t know what to make of this feisty millennial who’s run the communications shop for the state’s Senate Republicans since the beginning of the year.
While the states share a few similarities — towering mountains give way to arid plains, and craft breweries abound — the political differences are vast.
Colorado has term limits and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and 120-day legislative sessions, where the Oregon Legislature only recently began convening at all in even-numbered years — meeting for 160 days in odd-numbered years to pass biannual budgets, then gathering for just 35 days in even-numbered years. And while both major parties jostle for supremacy in Colorado, Republicans in Oregon struggle for a seat at the table, Lockwood observed, although he’s doing what he can to change that.
“When I first started in Oregon, it was so optimistic. It was more Ivanka than Donald,” he said with a staccato laugh never more than a few syllables away.
“I really thought, oh this is going to be a new state, a new environment. I had a really strong drive to make sure things were not very partisan — very evidence-based, fact-based, everything sourced — and I just saw over the course of the session Republicans getting abused or bamboozled or tricked and thought this isn’t working, we need to call out what’s happening.”
And call out he did. Soon, the Lockwood familiar to Colorado politicos was firing off press releases, tweets and bite-size quotes to Oregon reporters. Whether it was accusing a Senate Democrat of throwing a “temper tantrum” or helping his bosses find just the right way to get across their point — “Democrats want to ignite fury within the hearts of Oregonians by trampling on the Constitution,” said Senate GOP Leader Ted Ferrioli in what sounds like an extended Lockwoodism — the Oregon Capitol was witnessing something fresh.
“In a lot of ways, there’s more decorum here, but it is way more partisan than it looks,” Lockwood said, noting that Republicans only last year won the necessary Senate seat to prevent Democrats from riding roughshod over the session with a super-majority.
“The parties come together on big things like the hospital provider tax that passed and funding education at $8.2 billion, the highest level ever,” he added with an audible frown. “But Democrats don’t let Republicans get a lot of things through.”
“Here, compromise means the Democrats are making concessions, but the premise of the bill isn’t being changed,” Lockwood said. “But Republicans try really hard to work with the Democrats, so any way a bill is improved, it’s because Republicans stuck it out and got something.”
“I really think Democrats in Oregon have the worst their party has to offer,” he continued. “The Democrats here make even Crisanta Duran look extremely reasonable. All the Democrats are much further left than in Colorado. Gov. Hickenlooper would be a Republican here, and he wouldn’t have a chance in hell of being governor of Oregon.”
Since Oregon doesn’t have term limits like Colorado — governors are restricted to two consecutive, four-year terms but can serve an unlimited number of terms — Lockwood said the statehouse dynamics are a lot different.
“The lobby does not rule the roost — it’s the lawmakers that have been here for decades. If you think you’re going to drop attack ads and make someone fold, you’re wrong,” he said.
The state Capitol in Salem — it’s “small, quiet, like a quieter suburb of Denver, if you sucked out all the nail salons and hair salons,” Lockwood said (it’s about the same population as Lakewood, something over 150,000) — doesn’t have the same occasional cross-caucus camaraderie as Colorado’s, Lockwood said.
“Democratic staffers here won’t even go on the elevator with me, they won’t say hello,” he said, but he didn’t sound like it bothered him much, adding, “I’ve blocked most of the Democrats on Twitter.”
But he’s made a mark, or at least that’s what a few moles in the opposition tell him.
“Everyone I talk to — people don’t necessarily know I talk to these people — they say, ‘The Democrats do not stop talking about you.’ One person said, ‘You’re living in their head rent-free.’ They said, ‘The Democrats have never had to deal with someone like you, they’re not used to someone sending out detailed, explicit press releases.’”
He doesn’t exactly return the compliment.
“The Democrats here have the worst messaging I’ve ever seen, and it actually works against them. People who have been in control for decades are deriding the status quo and demanding change.” That provoked a laugh.
“In Oregon they repeat the same thing every day — ‘corporations need to pay their fair share.’ Wha, wha, call the whambulance.”
Lockwood’s job in Oregon follows a gig helming Advancing Colorado, a bellicose advocacy organization — the Denver Post editorial page called Lockwood “flat-out deranged” after one of its ads attacked U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet by depicting children counting down to a nuclear explosion. He worked as a political director for U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s 2012 campaign and was press secretary for the Colorado House GOP during the tumultuous 2013 session, also logging stints at Compass Colorado, Revealing Politics and Generation Opportunity.