The most-discussed and most-watched member of the Republican National Committee at its summer meeting last week in Chicago was Justin Hwang, Oregon’s recently elected state party chairman.
At 37, Hwang is one of the youngest of the 168-member governing panel and, as the son of South Korean immigrants and owner of 31 restaurants, does not look like the average RNC member.
”He’s the face of the future of the Republican Party,” Oklahoma Republican National Committeewoman Pam Pollard told Newsmax, hailing the party’s modern outreach programs for attracting young people to the party.
California Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel hailed Hwang as ”proof the Republican Party is changing and growing” and cited his success as an entrepreneur as a sign that he ”is not a victim but a grateful, freedom-loving and hardworking man. He represents what is positive and good about America.”
Speaking with Newsmax during a break at the Chicago meeting, Hwang shook his head and chuckled about the praise he was receiving. He preferred to discuss what the Republicans in Oregon are doing under his leadership.
”We now have the once-in-a-generation opportunity to elect a Republican governor in Oregon, and we can do it,” he told us, referring to the unique three-candidate race this November.
With Democratic Gov. Kate Brown termed out, former House Speaker Tina Kotek is carrying the Democratic standard.
Republicans are united behind former House GOP leader Christine Drazan, who has strong backing from Oregon Right to Life and high ratings from the National Rifle Association. Her emphasis, however, has been on fiscal issues, homelessness, crime and education.
”A conservative with common sense” is how Hwang characterizes the Republican nominee.
The race is complicated by the candidacy of former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a Democrat-turned-independent. Johnson has proclaimed herself a centrist and said she wants to appeal to ”Never Trump” Republicans.
The new chairman also believes 2022 affords his party a rare opportunity to pick up at least one U.S. House seat. In the state’s 5th District, moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader was trounced in May’s Democratic primary by attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who, in Hwang’s words, ”makes AOC [Democratic Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York] look like Ronald Reagan.”
Republicans, Hwang told us, have an attractive center-right candidate in former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer. Schrader has broken party ranks to endorse the now-unaffiliated Johnson for governor and has predicted that Chavez-DeRemer will be his successor.
But the election of a ”Governor Drazan” and ”Congresswoman Chavez-DeRemer,” Hwang emphasized, depends on an unprecedented fundraising drive by the party (”I’m going to have to sell a few more chicken teriyakis”) and a robust volunteer effort to provide ”good, hard work” for the candidates.
”Good, hard work” is no stranger to the newly minted chairman. Raised in Pasadena, California, he earned a culinary degree and moved to Oregon to launch his chain of restaurants specializing in Asian food. Drawn to politics because of his love of the free enterprise system, he lost a bid for state representative in 2018.
Undeterred, Hwang threw himself into the Republican Party, was elected a vice chairman of the state party, and moved to its helm earlier this year.
At his first RNC meeting, Hwang was calm in discussing matters. Where many were eager to talk to reporters about the party’s 2024 platform and the future of national Chairman Ronna McDaniel, Hwang was careful in his responses.
”We should definitely have a platform in 2024 and there will be a platform committee to work it out, but that’s in two years,” he said.
Regarding McDaniel, Hwang told us: ”I haven’t met her, but we’re supposed to have lunch. Let’s talk when I know her a little better.”
We asked him, almost inevitably, his thoughts on former President Donald Trump.
”I love him,” Hwang replied without hesitation. ”And I want to meet him — soon.”
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