SALEM — The Oregon House voted Monday to pull a statue of Oregon pioneer Jason Lee from a prominent place in the U.S. Capitol and replace it with one of the late Mark Hatfield, one of the most influential politicians the state has seen.
Hatfield supporters insist they have nothing against Lee, a missionary in the 19th century and founder of the school that became Willamette University, but they say it’s time for a more modern and prominent figure in Oregon’s history.
Hatfield was an Oregon governor and a Republican U.S. senator well-known for his willingness to buck the GOP. He died in 2011 at the age of 89.
“He was a maverick before maverick became a campaign fad,” said Rep. Jules Bailey, D-Portland. “When being a maverick was difficult. When it meant maybe being on the other side of your party, when it meant maybe frustrating your constituents.”
Each state gets two statues in the U.S. Capitol. Lee’s is displayed in National Statuary Hall outside the House chamber. Oregon’s other statue depicts John McLoughlin, a fur trader known as the father of Oregon.
In a 36-22 vote, the state House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would require the Oregon Historical Society to raise money for a Hatfield statue. Lee’s statue would return to Salem, possibly to the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, where Lee’s house is preserved.
Few legislators stood up for Lee on the House floor Monday, but he got plenty of support from members of the public, who told members of the House Rules Committee that removing Lee from the Capitol would dishonor Oregon’s history and remove a symbol of Christianity. The measure goes to the Senate.
Hatfield was the longest serving U.S. senator in Oregon history, serving five terms from 1967 to 1997. He gained fame for key efforts against American involvement in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.
The change from Lee to Hatfield was championed by Reps. Vic Gilliam, a Silverton Republican who worked for Hatfield in the Senate, and Tobias Read, D-Beaverton,
“Mark Hatfield, I believe, embodied the spirit of all we desire in our public officials: strength, intellect, honesty, courage, independence, fortitude and most importantly, a commitment to Oregon,” said Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg.