On Friday, June 26, before the floor session started in the Oregon House of Representatives, I made a point of saying to my friend, Representative Rob Nosse of Portland, “Congratulations on the Supreme Court Decision. This is a big day for you.” I don’t agree with the decision, but I’m truly happy for my friend and his family.
Also on Friday, HB 2002 – a bill to create a means for reporting racial profiling by law enforcement agencies – came to the floor. I spoke in favor of that bill and then gladly voted for it. I feel strongly that the person matters more than the race.
At the end of the day, during the time in which Representatives are allowed to speak on any subject, Representative Joe Gallegos (D) of Hillsboro, in anticipation of the rally on the Capitol steps featuring Sheriff Joe Arapaio, referred to people as “bigots”.
You know Sheriff Joe. He’s the guy who makes his inmates live in tents, eat baloney sandwiches and wear pink underwear.
I would never from the house floor refer to anyone as a bigot – certainly not an elected official who has been re-elected six times from a county in Arizona that has a population greater than the entire state of Oregon. This is not some fringe lunatic. He is a principled man and I draw strength from his courage. I expect that no one would refer to another person as a bigot from the house floor, just as I, a pro-life person, would never refer to anyone as a baby killer.
Think of what it takes to call someone a bigot or a hater. You have to say “I have a window into that person’s soul. His heart is filled with hate. I know what their motives are.” This is not only presumptuous. It is morally wrong. It is as morally wrong as the cop who says that, because of your skin color, your heart is full of crime. That’s why we passed HB 2002.
I don’t think Sheriff Arapaio is a bigot. I’m not a bigot. And I don’t think calling people bigots moves the discussion forward. I spoke Saturday at the rally, with some of my colleagues, where the bar for civility is certainly lower than the standards set for speeches on the floor of the House. Our political speech was interrupted, disrupted and shouted down for two solid hours. We were called haters, racists and white supremacists. That’s too bad. What OFIR wants is the rule of law to be followed, regardless of race.
This was clearly an attempt to stop political debate on a subject of vital importance to Oregon and this country. The subject is immigration policy. Those who believe that immigration laws and restrictions are necessary and must be enforced are being called bigots, a vile term designed to shut down debate and force acceptance of the views of those who support no restrictions on immigration. They call for tolerance for themselves but do not practice tolerance or respect for those with whom they disagree.
I have higher expectations of the party that preaches tolerance.
Mike Nearman, R-Independence, serves on the board of Oregonians For Immigration Reform and represents House District 23, which covers much of the rural Western Willamette Valley. This column was adapted from a speech given on the Oregon House floor on Monday.