Last August, in the little town of Bend, a 60-year-old fundamentalist minister who believes in "Christian candidates and fears an imminent communist worldwide takeover became chairman of the Oregon, Republican Party.
Today, Walter Huss, who calls himself "a servant of people," and his organizational-minded wife, Rosalie, are busy transforming this state's once-progressive GOP into an instrument that reflects their own political perception.
"My victory signals a new direction for the Republican Party," said Huss. "The club set is trying to cling to their vestiges. They hate to admit they've lost."
Whether Huss is the wave of the GOP future, or as his critics believe, the voice of a hate-filled past, his victory represents one of the striking triumphs of evangelical religious participation in organizational politics.
Like the communists of the '30s, or the John Birchers of the '60s, who took over organizations by outworking their opponents, Huss and his followers, simply beat the politicians at their own game.
"They went to the meetings," says Travis Cross, onetime press secretary to former Republican governor Tom McCall. "They stayed awake. They stayed at the meetings after other went home. In other words, they did it legally."
Huss started his reign by causing consternation to the party's gubernatorial nominee, Victor Atiyeh. Meeting with the press soon after his election, Huss said he preferred for candidates tobe Christians.
Atiyeh, who had already said that Huss did not represent his pholosophy, promptly disavowed the statement.
"Many leaders of Oregon's Jewish community are serving in key roles in my campaign," said Atiyeh, who is of Syrian descent. "Huss statement is an implied slur on those people and many other foreign citizens' both Jewish and non-Jewish. As far as I'm concerned, that statement must be retracted....No religious barrier is acceptable.
Huss issued a retraction of sorts, saying he was talking of moral principles and that he didn't care about the religious identification of a candidate. As he explained it last week in an interview.
"The problem is not one of faith but of historic values. Portland has a Jewish major (Neal Goldschmidt) and a Jewish-controlled press (the Newhouse papers), and Jews are well-represented in the system. One of my best friends is a Jew - Jesus Christ."
Seventeen years ago Huss was the target of both Christian and Jewish religious organizations in Portland, which accused him of hate-mongering. At that time he published a right-wing newspaper, the National Eagle, which had both anti-Semitic and anti-black overtones and which warned Cub Scoutden mothers against promoting peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union. The legislative record of then-Congresswomen Edith Green was attacked by the Huss newspaper in 1962 under the headline"Edith Green's Pro-Red Record."
Huss says he has now "matured" since those days and understands the importance of building political coalitions. But he compares the position of the United States to that of the Roman Empire and says, "It's just a matter of time," before the nation collapses unless it faces up to the threat of communism.
Asked how much time the nation has, Huss prefers to respond with a formula, "E. D. NBT. S." It stands for, "External encirclement plus demoralization plus nuclear blackmail threat equal surrender."
There is no inclination to surrender, however, in the established wing of the Oregon Republican Party, which has given such moderate-to-liberalfigures to the nation as McCall and the present senators, Mark O. Hatfield and Bob Packwood.
Led by Secretary of State Treasurer Clay Myers, the GOP officeholders formed a new "Council of Elected Republicans." Its principal purpose will be to provide an alternative mechanism for fund-raising.
The elected officeholders have been unremittingly critical of Huss, giving him much publicity in the process. But none have matched the wit and vitriol of McCall who recently called Huss "a religious zealot whose entere demeanor seems to scream, 'Stop the world - I want YOU to get off.'"
Huss perhaps shaken by Atiyeh's criticism of him, has promised to distribute funds to all Republicans, though he is openly critical of Hatfield, who trounced him in the 1966 Senate primary.
But there are few funds to distribute at this point since the chairman Huss replaced doled them out before his ouster.
Since Huss has no immediate power, there is a tendency among old-line politicians to discount him and point to the weak party system in the state, where there is little patronage.
However the Democrats pushed througha $1 checkoff law for political contributions that will give the GOP organization an estimated $80,000 to distribute in 1960, when both Paulus and Myers come up for reelection. That is a lot of money in Oregon.
Huss has tapped the fundamentalists, telling them have a Christian duty to get involved," says Paulus. "He is appealing to people who have never been in power before. There could be a lot of trouble for all of us."
That kind of "trouble" is exactly what Huss has in mind. He sees the two political parties in Oregon as similar as peas in a pod, representing "elitist" concerns and ignoring the needs of the people and the dangers of communism.
"The Bible says to occupy," says Huss. "This means to take charge of, including of politics."