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Oregon GOP Drops Support for House Candidate with Record of Felony Assault

Alex Constantine - July 20, 2014

"... Runyan's mother told deputies that her son hit her in the mouth when she tried to break up the fight. ..."

Oregon GOP pulls support for HD 9 candidate Runyan

After winning the Republican primary for House District 9 in Southern Oregon, Casey Runyan reached out to state GOP leadership for support. What he got was rejection.

House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, and Oregon Republican Party Chairman Art Robinson told the Reedsport Republican the party would not support him in his general election race against Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay.

"It's due to one reason only," Runyan told the Statesman Journal. "The reason I am not getting any support from the Republican leadership is because of a crime that occurred."

Runyan grew up in Ogemaw County, Mich. In December 2004, Runyan was arrested in that county on charges of driving under the influence and felony assault. He later pleaded guilty and served eight months in county jail.

"It was a horrible experience altogether," Runyan said. "It was a nightmare."

According to the incident report from the Ogemaw County Sheriff's Office, Runyan returned to his mother's house from a bar on the evening of Dec. 19, 2004 and woke her boyfriend, Walter Gembarowski, by punching him in the face and shouting obscenities.

"Walter woke up but was unable to do much to protect himself because the blankets restricted his movements," according to the report. "Walter stated he could not see much due to blood getting in his eyes."

Runyan's mother told deputies that her son hit her in the mouth when she tried to break up the fight.

Runyan left the house, but he soon returned and punched through his mother's bedroom window, grabbed the phone line and ripped it out while she spoke with a 911 dispatcher.

The altercation came to an end when an intoxicated Runyan drove away after repeatedly kicking Gembarowski's truck.

"Mr. Runyan's actions are disturbing and do not reflect the principles and values of the House Republican Caucus," said House GOP spokeswoman Kara Walker. "While the residents of House District 9 would be well served by a thoughtful Republican representative, we have chosen not to support Mr. Runyan and his campaign."

Runyan's Michigan past never surfaced during the primary.

Walker told the Statesman Journal the House Republican Office learned about the felony conviction after he defeated Coos County Republican Party Chairman Jason Payne by a handful of votes.

Party registration in the district favors the Democrats. McKeown won the seat in 2012 with 55 percent of the vote.

Runyan contacted the Statesman Journal in July, calling the lack of support by the GOP "hypocritical."

In the decade since that night in December, Runyan said, he has maintained a clean criminal record, completed the terms of his probation and served in combat operations in Iraq as a U.S. Marine.

"I've changed my relationship with alcohol," Runyan said. "I said 'If that's what drinking like that is going to do to me, I'm not going to drink like that anymore.' "

He still enjoys an occasional beer or two at home with his wife, but Runyan said he avoids bars and people who drink with the expressed purpose of getting drunk.

Runyan said he deserves his party's support. He's already received the support of Ogemaw County Sheriff Howie Hanft.

"He's really grown up," Hanft said. "I think it was a very isolated incident."

Hanft has known Runyan most of his life and said, "Casey is an excellent young man" who learned from his mistakes. He'd be comfortable with Runyan as his state representative.

"For someone to go through that and get back into the military and serve his country and get married and start a family," Hanft said. "I think he's doing great."