John Large waits in the reception area of Omlid & Swinney, a fire protection company in Springfield. He’s there personally to express thanks for the company’s support of the Lane County GOP Golf Invitational.
As the manager emerges from his office, Large goes into action with a big smile and hearty handshake at the ready. They launch into conversation about business, family, friends and local gossip.
“I keep telling our volunteers that they need to go out and talk to people. You need to get personal, because they don’t know who you are,” Large says.
It’s the personal touch that Large says is helping him grow and strengthen the Republican Party in Lane County. With a permanent office for the first time in 17 years and his one-on-one approach, Large wants to help get GOP votes for the next election.
In the U.S. media and in public, support for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party is rife with conflict and polarization — even internally. Seeing this locally, Large said “yes” to the chairman role of the Lane County Republican Party (LCRP) in October 2018.
He came in to “clean house,” he says, and to set the office on a new path to success and visibility. He says right away that social media won’t be how he goes about meeting his goals. He’s not a multimedia man, preferring instead to build rapport with people the old-fashioned way: through in-person visits and phone calls. Since the new office in Pleasant Hill opened for business in September, it is now a place for people to chat, get information and browse materials.
Eager to share about himself and his goals for the LCRP, Large sits at a tall counter in that newly opened Lane County Republican Party Headquarters. He is an accommodating person but conventional in his thinking — both characteristics very similar to other Republicans, he points out.
Springfield is home for Large. Now in his 60s, he moved with his family to Lane County around age 8 from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After trying college and deciding it wasn’t for him, he joined the Army to fight in the Vietnam War.
Later, he returned home to Springfield and spent most of the 1970s working for a water pump business, where he learned the ropes. Later he started his own water pump business, which he ran for 22 years.
Those customers became longtime friends and neighbors. They also helped Large solidify his reputation in Lane County. He engages with business owners and locals whenever, wherever.
Omlid & Swinney’s service and inspections manager, Jeremy Gordon, has known Large almost his whole life. They’ve lived in the same community and share many of the same business contacts. During a stint as a real estate agent, Large sold Gordon’s parents their home in 1985.
“Everyone I know likes John. He’s always had happy customers, and I think that serves him well now,” Gordon says.
In August, Republicans and Democrats alike were extended invites to the LCRP Fundraising Golf Invitational held at Pine Ridge Golf Course. As a sponsor and participant, Gordon says this helped Omlid & Swinney keep to its policy of staying neutral. Technicians are asked to limit their political affiliations during work hours — even sports team bumper stickers aren’t allowed.
Omlid & Swinney “tries to support the community as much as we can.
“Honestly, most of us are Republicans, so we would support the Lane County GOP anyway, but it sure doesn’t hurt that John works hard to reach out and keep the business relationship strong,” Gordon says.
To thank the businesses that donated financially by sponsoring a team at the invitational, Large brought handwritten thank-you notes, golf-ball markers with Trump’s likeness and premade signs specific to each donor.
“We’re not going to send them an email. I’m gonna take these signs and thank them and shake their hand for participating,” Large says.
Most days Large can be found driving around town, meeting with folks where they are, or talking with people at the new party office. Those who stop in can buy Republican-themed apparel, hats and gifts.
“For 17 years, there hasn’t been a permanent GOP office in Lane County, which meant people had to go to the Marion County office,” Large says. He says he’s proud that there’s now a reason to stop, encouraging more conversations and potentially, more voters.
In Lane County as of fall 2019, Democrats made up 39 percent of registered voters, while 23 percent were Republicans, according to the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division. Eight other parties make up the remaining voter registration numbers.
Large and his wife have 16 grandchildren between them, and the 13 acres he owns in Pleasant Hill keep him busy outside of his Republican Party work. Most recently, he’s been cutting the timber on his property to prepare for winter. However, Large said he spends the majority of his retirement time attending to his GOP chairman responsibilities.
“One of my old customers, a gal, called me one day and asked if I would consider running for the Lane County Republican Party [chair], and I said, ‘No.’ Then she asked me what it would take for me to run. I told her that I’d want to can everybody and start over,” Large says.
Large faced many challenges early on.
In a 2016 The Register-Guard reported former LCRP Chairwoman Cindy Land as saying, “The Lane County GOP has struggled with infighting and a lack of funding in recent years, operating in what is one of the most liberal counties in the state.”
Large says, “I saw some things. It was just in shambles. People weren’t united, and there was infighting. They left because they were tired of all the fights.”
He says his team of volunteers “started from scratch, without usernames or passwords even, to access database information.”
“I’m not afraid to tell it like it is. I think a lot of people don’t like it sometimes. But they know I don’t mean it with malice,” Large says.
Former vice president of Republican Women of Central Lane County Lela Trope agrees. “Nobody works harder or gives more than John,” she says. “I may not always agree with him, but I respect his decisions and know he’s the right man for the job.”
Large says he sees his character and work ethic as similar to President Trump’s.
“I know that Mr. Trump is a multi-billionaire. And working with all the people he’s worked with — you don’t do that by being a liar and a cheat — you want to keep that good reputation. I know he loves America and the people in it because he tells us that. I like to see what a man does, not what he says. I can see what he’s doing and I see a working fool,” Large says.
Community members have similar praise for Large.
Lifelong conservative Terry Anderson said he likes Large’s matter-of-fact approach. He volunteered with the LCRP since 1993, when he moved back to Oregon for the second time. The two met in October when Large took the chairman position. Anderson’s volunteer duties include making phone calls to Republicans and independent voters at certain times of the year.
“When John came on the scene, he didn’t want to get mixed up in the disruptive behavior that was happening in the party. He’s a straightforward leader who sets goals and gets stuff done,” Anderson says.
The next 12 months will keep Large busier than ever. He says that keeping relationships strong with old and new voters while finding a way to surround himself with reliable people will be crucial.
Large says of his plans for 2020, “My single goal for the next year is to get this president re-elected for another term.”