Early April marks the halfway point in the 2021 legislative session, and there are two competing viewpoints and approaches in governing Oregon. The first is focused on reaching across the aisle to address issues of concern to our families recovering from the pandemic. The second approach is an existential threat to our democratic process.
This threat to our democracy is shown by lawmakers who refuse to participate and promote hateful values.
Oregonians know about Rep. Mike Nearman's actions to allow extremists with violent intentions into our State Capitol (Nearman under criminal investigation for Capitol breach). But, sadly, Oregonians should be just as concerned about the pervasive threat to the democratic process from State Sen. Dallas Heard.
As a refresher: On Dec. 21, Sen. Heard encouraged violent right-wing extremists to attempt to enter the Oregon State Capitol building. That group went on to assault law enforcement, attack members of the press and shatter doors.
Less than three weeks later, on Jan. 6, the United States Capitol was under assault, and Sen. Heard delivered an inciting speech to another group of extremists outside the Oregon State Capitol.
Sen. Heard continues to undermine Oregon's democracy while serving in the State Senate and now, as chair of the Oregon Republican Party.
This pattern of extremist behavior is familiar to many. In 2009, Sen. Heard called into a right-wing radio show to explain why he didn't trust women in leadership because it's not "comfortable." When this statement came to light, years later, he called himself a "brash jerk" and said, "I'd like to believe I've really changed."
Well, Oregonians had hoped he would have changed too — but the evidence suggests he's as extreme as ever, and he's now ascended into a powerful position as chair of the Oregon Republican Party.
This session, Sen. Heard has a policy of voting "no" on important legislation. So far, 93% of the bills before the Senate chamber have passed with bipartisan support, but when casting a "no" vote would be a bad look, Sen. Heard evades that vote by leaving the Senate floor and trying to hide.
Heard has dodged votes honoring fallen soldiers, Vietnam War veterans, and the life and legacy of an esteemed statesman. Just last week, Sen. Heard attempted to conceal racist views by avoiding a floor vote on a bill that made displaying a noose as an act of intimidation a hate crime. This week, Sen. Heard attempted to avoid his Constitutional responsibility to vote on legislation on issues regarding crimes of child pornography.
We have seen that the Oregon Republican Party is now headed by someone who encourages hateful, racist and misogynistic views. In addition, Sen. Heard's inexcusable behavior is shutting out his constituents in Southern Oregon from having their input known in Salem.
Oregonians have elected us to represent our constituents and the state of Oregon. Lawmakers need to show up, do their job, and work with the other side. We can no longer accept lawmakers who try to shut down the Legislature.
It's time to end playing partisan games with our democracy — there is already too much extremism in Oregon and in America, and we need to get back to bipartisanship and governing for everyone.
I enjoy opportunities to work with my colleagues across the aisle. At the end of the day, our shared motivation is to do good work for our constituents across Oregon. I hope Oregonians — regardless of your party — take time to consider what that means to have elected officials engaging in true debate and reject the assault on our democracy posed by extremist legislators at all levels of government.
State Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, represents District 19, which includes portions of Southwest Portland, Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn. He serves as Senate Majority Leader in the 2021 Legislature.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.