(Update: Adding Deschutes County Republican Party statement)
'I just couldn't take it anymore,' said former state representative
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Former state representative and GOP gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler of Bend explained to NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday why he is among more than 6,000 Oregon Republicans who left the party last month and 11,000 since the November election.
And on Thursday, the Deschutes County Republican Party offered its formal response.
"The events in January were deeply disturbing to me, starting out with President Trump's questioning of the election, and trying to strong-arm many times Republican elected officeholders to change election results," Buehler said. "And then the encouraging of the assault on the Capitol.”
"The final straw really was the Oregon Republican State Committee's resolution, claiming a conspiracy theory -- a debunked conspiracy theories- about this 'false flag' operation, and that the far left was really responsible for attacking the Capitol," Buehler added.
"I just couldn't take it anymore," he said. "That's just not responsible. And if those are the kinds of resolutions -- I don't know what a Republican really means anymore."
Buehler, like many of those who changed their registration, moved to the ranks of non-affiliated voters, which have risen by more than 10,000 statewide since the election. Democratic ranks also fell by nearly 8,500 since the election.
The former state representative, long viewedas a moderate by some and a RINO (Republican in name only) by his critics, said he's closed his involvement in politics.
"I've never seen politics as a career," he said. "I'm an orthopedic surgeon by training. I saw my political involvement as a service. After six years, that service is done. I think that's long enough.
"But I'll be happy to help other worthy candidates who really want to solve big problems for real people. It doesn't matter to me if those are Republican candidates, independent or non-affiliated candidates, or even Democratic candidates, if they are truly interested in solving real problems."
“Of course, they have to be true to principles I believe in: freedom, the rule of law, defending the Constitution, providing opportunities for people.”
"I don't believe in blind loyalty to any party or a person, even president," he said. “I said that from the very beginning of my political involvement. I'm true to my principles. ... Nothing's changed with regard to that."
"In an old adage of Ronald Reagan, ‘I haven't left the party, the party's left me,’" Buehler said. “I don't know what it means to be a Republican anymore, certainly in this state."
"I feel both parties have not governed well over the last two decades," Buehler said. "There's been sweeping changes across our country, and it's knocked a lot of people off their feet, and we need to be mindful of that.
"I think it's something that President Trump recognized," he said. "Unfortunately, his leadership style and his approach just wasn't able to help those people. And I think that's why we see so much discord right now."
NewsChannel 21 also reached out to former Deschutes County commissioner and current county Republican Chair Phil Henderson on Tuesday about the recent voter registration changes.
"Seems like a lot of the people maybe leaving the party were in the Portland area - Washington County and a couple of other places," he said. I don't think that's been a trend in Deschutes County so far.
"But to the extent- people do change parties after elections," Henderson said. "I think people were disappointed for not winning. People were disappointed for the way the campaign went. I think it's been a very volatile political year."
Here's the Deschutes County GOP statement on his move:
Deschutes Republicans Statement to Dr. Knute Buehler’s Decision
“It was disappointing to read Tuesday that former Bend Republican, Dr. Knute Buehler, has chosen to re-register as a member of Independent Party. Itis a loss to the Republican Party, our community, and the state, but not entirely surprising,” said Deschutes Republican Chairperson, Phil Henderson.
“My hope is that it is not the beginning of a run for statewide office as an Independent, or an eventual conversion to the Democratic Party as some knowledgeable people have predicted,” Henderson said. “Is he picking up his marbles and going home or just changing teams? Who knows? Buehler does have access to many very well-heeled Oregon donors, but he has always seemed challenged by many concerns of working, middle-class Oregonians, and people of strong faith who make up the heart of the modern Republican Party.
"Buehler announced his decision in the New York Times, which seemed an odd choice if he doesn’t have further aspirations,” said Henderson.
“Dr. Buehler reported his frustration recently with the national and state Republican parties in making his decision, but there were other ways to respond to those,” Henderson said. “I am sure that many Deschutes Republicans join with me in appreciating his service as a two-term State Representative for Bend. He stepped up to the plate to run as the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Governor, and a candidate for Congressional District #2 over the last few election cycles. We hope he does not campaign against us now and our candidates in the future.”