Aaron Rapf, who was recently elected to the Lake Oswego City Council, was a registered Republican who believed in the power of small government and fiscal responsibility — not the actions exhibited by the pro-Trump insurrectionists who stormed the United States Capitol yesterday.
"What was happening in Washington D.C. was just gross, disrespectful and embarrassing for the country, and then to have the party that I've believed in for so long to be responsible for it just made me feel dirty and sick," Rapf said.
Within hours of seeing what the insurrectionists were responsible for, Rapf renounced his affiliation with the Republican party and re-registered as an Independent.
"I did that because the label doesn't define me. A label doesn't define anybody," said Rapf, adding that labels are a shorthand way for people to put others in a box.
In an attempt to overturn the presidential election, the insurrectionists charged and occupied the Capitol building for most of Wednesday, Jan. 6, which caused the House and Senate to pause their work certifying the electoral college vote.
Lake Oswego residents and elected officials, even those identifying as Republican, were disgusted by the extremists' actions.
Rapf remembers receiving a text about the situation from a friend residing in San Francisco, who's also a registered Republican. Rapf, who hadn't yet heard what was taking place at the U.S. Capitol, checked the news.
"Immediately my heart dropped; immediately I was embarrassed to be a Republican," he said. "This is not my party. This is not the Republican Party I believe in."
For the rest of the day, Rapf said he experienced an existential political crisis.
"Just emotionally I was spiraling down, just embarrassed, sad and depressed," Rapf said. "Our country is acting like we're a third world country."
On Jan. 6, his Republican affiliation meant nothing to him. So he decided to let it go.
"The political party label doesn't change what you believe in, but the Republican label has become so toxic that I didn't want to be a part of it anymore," Rapf said. "It didn't represent me anymore."
Changing his party affiliation to "Independent" didn't mean Rapf changed what he believes in. He said he still values what the Republican Party was set up to be.
When Rapf ran for a seat on City Council, people knew he was a Republican, though it was a non-partisan race. He was hoping, based on what he'd seen in Washington D.C. over the last four years, that he could help change the perception of the Republican Party locally. Rapf said he was a moderate Republican and that there are some Democratic ideals he thinks are great. He said being a moderate helps with the ability to see perspectives from both sides.
He expressed the importance of finding compromise and respecting one another.
"The party that I once believed in had lost those qualities to me. Party affiliation doesn't secure your beliefs," said Rapf, adding that extremism doesn't belong anywhere in society.
At the city level, Rapf said it's important to look past the party labels and focus on what people are fighting for. He said Lake Oswego leaders serve to make the city a better place, and that what's been exhibited at the nation's Capitol building is the exact opposite.
Rapf said he thinks the only way the Republican Party can turn back into what he believes it should be is if there is a mass exodus. He thinks this will force leadership to reconsider what the platform looks like and how they plan to improve interactions with the rest of the country.
Rapf hopes to inspire others to do the same in making that change.
"People need to get out from under that political party-labeled crutch and understand their beliefs are way stronger than a single-word label," he said. "At least I feel like I can be part of a change somehow. Hopefully by what I did yesterday, (I) can hopefully inspire one other person to do the same.
"We're more multidimensional than a one-word label."
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