By JOHN FORTMEYER
SALEM — For a third time in the past several years, inaction by the Oregon Legislature means that a statue of an Oregon missionary pioneer will continue, for now, to represent the state in the nation’s capital.
And as far as Rev. Aaron Auer of ROAR (Reviving Oregon’s Amazing Roots) Ministries is concerned, that is a miraculous answer to prayer.
“Again, the hand of the Lord is upon the preservation of Oregon’s heritage,” he said. “For the third time, the most wicked bill that has ever originated in our state died.”
In fact, Auer continued, he firmly believes there was a link between the proposal and an unexpected event in Salem earlier this year.
“We must recognize the connections between former Gov. Kitzhaber’s executive order to facilitate the removal of the statue of Rev. Jason Lee, the true father of Oregon, with Bible in hand, from Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., and (Kitzhaber’s) resignation days after his swearing in.” said Auer, who ran against Democrat Kitzhaber last year as the Constitution Party nominee for governor.
Although a special state commission appointed last fall by Kitzhaber formally recommended to legislators this year that the statues of Lee and pre-statehood leader John McLoughlin be replaced with new historic figures, the Legislature adjourned last month without taking action on the matter.
So Lee and McLoughlin will continue at this point to stay in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.
Since state Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-Silverton) in 2011 first proposed that the Lee statue be replaced, Auer has been the leading vocal opponent of the idea. Auer and other evangelical Christians fervently beieve that taking it out of the U.S. Capitol would denigrate the state’s spiritual roots by drawing attention away from Oregon’s spiritual heritage. He said there seems to be a steady effort today by state leaders to see reminders of those Christian roots — such as the Bible held in Lee’s hand in the statue — removed from public settings.
During the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions, Gilliam had unsuccessfully pushed bills to replace the Lee statue with a depiction of the late Mark Hatfield, longtime governor and U.S. senator for Oregon. Gilliam said he considered Hatfield not only a personal mentor but also the greatest figure in the state’s history.
But although it this year gave serious consideration to Hatfield as well as former Gov. Tom McCall, the Statuary Hall Study Commission in March recommended that new statues should depict Abigail Scott Dunaway, a women’s rights advocate, newspaper editor and writer; and Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce Native American tribe.
The panel’s chair, former Willamette University President Jerry Hudson, said in March that changing the statues in D.C. would not diminish the huge role Lee and McLoughlin had in Oregon, but that it was time to recognize others who have been equally influential.
But there are some who believe that Lee has no equal in the state’s past. Vaughn Longanecker of Aloha-based Christian Heritage of the Northwest Ministries told the commission that he knew of no other historical figure that matches Lee.
Auer, who shares Longanecker’s enthusiasm for Lee and who often portrays Lee in his ministry’s presentations, said the fact that the Lee statue remains in the U.S. Capitol is “a great victory for our state and for our nation.” But he was quick to add that he fully anticipates that the Lee statue will continue to be targeted in future state legislative sessions.