WASHINGTON, D.C. — For 60 years, a statue of a Christian missionary pioneer has stood here in the U.S. Capitol’s representing Oregon’s historic foundations.
But that might soon end.
A bill currently making its way through the Oregon Legislature in Salemwould direct the Oregon State Capitol Foundation to fund-raise and commission a statue of the late Mark Hatfield, longtime governor and U.S. senator, to replace the current statue of pioneer Rev. Jason Lee in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
Lead sponsor of House Bill 2387 is Rep. Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton, who told the Salem Statesman-Journal newspaper recently that Hatfield is the greatest leader Oregon has ever had. Gilliam was a legislative aide to Hatfield and said the lawmaker, who also was known widely for his Christian faith, was one of the greatest influences in his life.
Gilliam added that he has a great amount of respect for Lee, but believes a statue of Hatfield in the U.S. Capitol would be an appropriate change representing Oregon with a “profound” figure.
The same statue of Lee is also featured on the Oregon Capitol grounds.
Each state is allowed only two statues in the U.S. Capitol hall; each is meant to honor notable people in each state’s history.
The other Oregon statue at the U.S. Capitol depicts John McLoughlin, a fur trade officer, businessman and physician known as the “Father of Oregon” and the first to govern the Oregon Country.
A state can replace a statue in the national collection only by approval of that state’s Legislature and only if the statue has been on display for at least 10 years.
While Gilliam’s bill has dozens of co-sponsors, the legislation is strongly opposed by two Oregon residents known for calling attention to the state’s Christian heritage.
One is Aaron Auer, founder of ROAR (Reviving Oregon’s Amazing Roots) Ministries. Testifying against the bill to lawmakers at a recent public hearing in Salem on the legislation, Auer questioned why a statue depicting the state’s heritage would need to be replaced.
Auer, who often portrays Lee at public and ministry events, described the missionary pioneer as a “trailblazer” and “national treasure” and one of Oregon’s most heroic figures. He noted that Lee was organizer of the first provisional government in the Oregon Country and also founded Willamette University.
“Oregon cannot afford to denigrate our spiritual roots any further,” stated Auer in an e-mail to ROAR Ministries supporters. “HB 2387 is blatant attempt to ambush the citizens of Oregon by further suppressing Oregon’s rich spiritual heritage.”
Also opposing the bill is Vaughn Longanecker, an Aloha resident who leads Christian Heritage Ministries of the Northwest, conducting regular tours of historic sites in the Willamette Valley pertaining to Oregon’s spiritual heritage.
“Senator Mark Hatfield certainly was a servant of the state and is worthy of recognition and memorialization, so a statue of him could be placed on the (state) Capitol grounds,” he said. “But Jason Lee’s contribution, influence, service and sacrifice far outdoes Hatfield or McLoughlin … If there is to be a statue that is replaced, which I don’t think should be, it should be McLoughlin rather than Lee.”
Longanecker says those who don’t want to see the Lee statue replaced should contact any of the following members of the House Rules Committee: Chris Garrett, 503-986-1438; Wally Hicks, 503-986-1403; Val Hoyle, 503-986-1414; Phil Barnhart, 503-986-1411; Vicki Berger, 503-986-1420; Michael Dembrow, 503-986-1445; Paul Holvey, 503-986-1408; Bob Jenson, 503-986-1458 or Bill Kennemer, 503-986-1439, or write them through the Legislature web site, www.leg.state.or.us.
Auer also is asking that the legislators be contacted to halt the bill. He and ROAR Ministries have scheduled a rally from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, April 19 on the steps of the State Capitol.
If the statue of Lee in D.C. is returned to Oregon, Willamette Heritage Center in Salem would like it placed there. Lee’s house, which dates back to 1841 and is the oldest wood-frame house in Oregon, is already at the center.