A debate in the Oregon Senate over a bill to ban coyote-killing contests turned tense today, when the leader of the Senate Republicans compared the contests to Native American traditions.
At issue was Senate Bill 723, which would ban the east Oregon coyote-hunting contests that received scrutiny from the Humane Society of the United States last winter. As WW reported in April, the bill has become a flashpoint in a long-running conflict between conservationists and ranchers.
This morning, Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. (R-Grants Pass) declared that the bill would only increase hostilities between rural and urban Oregonians. He suggested he was personally angered by the bill, in part because he was dealing with a coyote problem on his own property in southern Oregon.
Baertschiger told Portlanders to keep their nose out of rural Oregonians' business—and in return he wouldn't remark on the squalor of Portland's homeless camps.
"When I visit their districts and see the carnage in their streets with the homeless and people defecating on the sidewalks, and living [there], it's just horrible," Baertschiger said. "Do I point to them? Do I say they should be doing something about it? … Do I say, 'You're not living right, in my opinion'? No. That is their world."
Baertschiger then pivoted to criticizing violent street protests in Portland—and began to imply that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was intimidated by antifascists. (He appeared to be repeating talking points popularized last fall by Fox News.)
"When I see people being assaulted on the streets of Portland," he said, "and the police standing by, and the mayor is so afraid, he can't—"
At this point, Senate President Peter Courtney cut Baertschiger off, gently, to ask that he "be a little careful here."
Baertschiger instead escalated: "And I see how we're extremely understanding of the Native Americans in our state. And their wishes to continue to do what they've traditionally done. Well, we'd like to continue what we've traditionally done in our rural districts."
He concluded with a plea for understanding.
"Yeah, we do some crazy things," he said. "We ride bulls for competition. That's pretty crazy. Anybody that's sat on the back of a bull—that's not the smartest thing to do. But that's what we do. We do those kind of things. And I just ask for once, that my colleagues that don't understand rural Oregon, try."
Baertschiger's remarks come in the midst of several tense days in the Senate, as the Democratic majority passes legislation that rural Republicans find repugnant—including new taxes and an anticipated carbon cap. On Monday, Republicans read aloud a letter from Stimson Lumber CEO Andrew Miller, who blamed state policies for layoffs at his Forest Grove sawmill.
The coyote-hunt ban, SB 723, passed the Senate on a mostly party-line vote. It now goes to the Oregon House.