Oregon Sen. Dallas Heard ripped off his mask during the opening hours of the Legislature’s third special session this year, protesting Democratic leaders requiring face coverings and closing the Capitol to the public as a coronavirus precaution.
Calling the daylong meeting an “illegitimate session,” the Republican lawmaker from Roseburg said he would have worn the mask if asked, “but you commanded it, and therefore I declare my right to protest against your false authority.”
Heard represents Roseburg, the seat of Douglas County, where two major outbreaks recently occurred after a person went to work despite feeling ill. County officials said the person later tested positive for COVID-19 and, within two weeks, one of two related outbreaks killed at least seven people — nearly 20% of the county’s total coronavirus fatalities since the pandemic began.
The county’s second outbreak forced more than 300 people into quarantine.
Heard argued that state lawmakers and Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to close the Capitol to the public and to require masks was an “intimidation of the people and children of God.”
“This is His kingdom, not ours,” Heard said during the morning session. “The days of your unchecked assault against our freedoms and His children is over. You have oppressed the free peoples of Oregon.”
On Tuesday, Oregon logged 1,282 new COVID-19 cases and 35 new deaths. And while at least 7,200 of the two-dose vaccines have been given to hospital and medical-related workers during the past week, about 350,000 people must still be vaccinated before the next group receives doses.
Despite Heard’s contentious morning exchange with Senate President Peter Courtney and a violent protest against coronavirus protections outside the Capitol, lawmakers passed several bills Monday.
They extended the state’s eviction moratorium, created a fund to compensate landlords and approved more funding for COVID-19 response and wildfire recovery work. But Republicans voiced frustration Tuesday that the Democrats’ supermajority canceled voices who represented vast areas of the state.
“As Oregonians who were locked out of the building, protested and demanded their rightful place in the halls of government, democrat leaders locked the minority party out of the lawmaking process inside the building,” said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby in a release Tuesday.
“We came to the Capitol to pass meaningful and productive legislation for hardworking and hurting Oregonians,” Drazan said. “Communities ravaged by wildfires, small businesses, schools, renters and housing providers needed help and we responded with bipartisan support. We continued funding for Oregon’s COVID response and provided critical COVID liability protections for our schools — a key step to safely reopening to in-person learning.
“But the people of Oregon cannot continue to pay the price, with a closed Capitol, closed meetings and backroom deals. This must end.”
Drazan’s assessment was more restrained than Heard’s final call to Courtney earlier Monday:
“I will stand here for 30 seconds while you decide whether you are fascists, willing to use to the government to force and override my rights,” he said, “or to prove that you are nothing more than bullies and false authority.”
Courtney cut Heard’s microphone and continued on with procedural motions to begin the day of lawmaking.