Tootie Smith compares statewide 'freeze' restrictions to slavery
Tootie Smith has doubled down on her declaration to defy Gov. Kate Brown's orders to limit social gatherings in an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tuesday night.
Smith — who will take her seat as chair-elect of the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners on Jan. 1 — is riding a wave of publicity following a staunch announcement on Facebook this weekend that she would be hosting as many family friends as she could find for Thanksgiving despite guidance from the state to limit in-home gatherings to no more than six people from two separate households. The limitation comes as Oregon enters a four-week freeze on social activity and new restrictions on businesses taking effect today, Wednesday, Nov. 18. The new guidelines are intended to help stem the spread of COVID-19 as case numbers continue to soar and hospital beds dwindle statewide.
In the interview Tuesday, Smith decried Brown's executive order and compared the new restrictions to slavery, stating that she shouldn't be made to feel like a "second-rate slave" in her own home.
"This is a travesty that's happening in our state," Smith told Carlson. "How dare Gov. Brown think she's going to come out, send the police into peoples' homes and arrest them and fine them for having a Thanksgiving meal with their family. While at the same time, she allows rioters and anarchists to destroy downtown city of Portland. That's hypocrisy."
Smith's comments have illuminated a stark contrast in Oregonians' sentiment toward the new lockdown measures as the state struggles to control the spread of the virus. While many agree that these restrictions on businesses and limitations on informal social gatherings are necessary to help manage spread, just as many feel that the governor and state health officials are overreaching their authority. Nowhere is this difference in opinion more sharp than in Clackamas County where a microcosm of the state's urban-rural divide is often on display.
Facebook and Twitter have seen thousands of people weigh in on Smith's comments as they continue to grab regional and national headlines, putting Clackamas County's politics in the spotlight.
On Wednesday, Oregon state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego) — who chairs the House Committee on Health Care — expressed her displeasure with the comments made by Smith during the interview.
"I was offended to hear (Smith) make an analogy to slavery, which I imagine she's never experienced," Salinas told Pamplin Media. "I imagine it was offensive to those who have ancestors who were slaves."
Salinas said that while she understands the collective yearning to be with family during the holidays, she believes it's a small sacrifice to pay in order to help public health officials gain control of the spread of COVID-19 in a time when deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise.
Salinas said she has canceled her plans to host her sister, brother-in-law and nephew from the Bay Area for Thanksgiving. Instead, Salinas' family is playing it safe and pivoting to a small gathering including only her spouse, daughter and 80-year-old mother-in-law, who is a cancer survivor.
"We've had 770 Oregonians die, and their families aren't going to have them at the table for Thanksgiving. There will be empty seats," Salinas said. "It feels really selfish for someone who has the microphone to be shouting that she's going to push aside guidance and science that protect the masses."
Salinas said that she's unsure whether Smith's comments represent a lack of understanding of the perils Oregonians face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or simply a disregard and carelessness of the guidance put forth by doctors and public health officials both at the state and county level.
"Either of which, I think (Smith) needs to be corrected," Salinas said.
Salinas colleague and fellow Clackamas County resident Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley) said she's also putting the health and safety of her older and more vulnerable family members by not hosting a virtual Thanksgiving.
"I'll be at home with our four kids. I'm not going anywhere and we'll wait for Christmas," Bynum told Pamplin Media.
According to Bynum, she's signed up to compete in a virtual "Turkey Trot" on Thanksgiving Day with some of her extended family members in Maryland, Washington, D.C., South Carolina, Illinois and Michigan.
"It will be a fun way to celebrate the day with my family who I rarely get to do things with," she said.
Bynum said that she while she understands that it's liberating for some like Smith to be defiant in the face of new restrictions set by the state, there are risks and rewards to be calculated for each individual and their families when planning how they'll celebrate holidays under conditions of the pandemic.
"If the risk of that liberation is confinement to a hospital bed or the loss of friends and loved ones, I wonder if it's really worth the reward," Bynum said. "And as a leader I would ask her who's really winning with that strategy? So far, COVID is winning."
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