Not long ago, the Deschutes Republicans sent out an email that demonstrated some wild swings in rationality. At the top of the email, it came out in favor of a bill—now defeated in the Oregon House—by Rep. Jack Zika (R-Redmond) that aimed to restore the balance of power in state government by allowing the state legislature to terminate the state of emergency that has been in effect since March 2020. A state of emergency gives the governor broader powers, and people on either side of the aisle agree that there should be an end date on a single person having that type of broad unchecked power. With this part of the Deschutes Republicans' recent email, we agree. A set of checks and balances is a foundation of representative democracy.
Had they stopped there, local Republicans would have helped themselves immensely. But inside the same correspondence, they went so far into speculative, unfounded fear mongering, they lost us. Deschutes Republicans declared that comprehensive sex education effectively sets kids up to be victims of pedophilia. Local Republicans were making the assertion that instructing young people about the basics of sex, about consent, about birth control and about how LGBTQ youth—and other youth—can protect their sexual health sets them up to be victims of child sex abuse.
At a time when divisions in our society are more defined than ever, creating a political platform that allows for a center is overdue. It's where most people want their politics to exist. Stoking wild fears about unfounded child sex abuse theories undercuts the ability for people to engage with more pragmatic discussion about our state government.
At a time when we need a robust debate about the powers of the legislature balanced with those of our governor, Republicans do themselves a disservice by sending a message to supporters that combines that very important topic with one that is unfounded and quite troubling. With the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines around mask wearing, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in regard to this pandemic. With that will come the end of a state of emergency for our state. This is a time for a robust debate about what happens next. But how can the vast majority of those who want to contemplate such topics do so, when the people who represent the right are diving off the deep end talking about sex ed's purported ties to pedophilia?
We know we live in an era when disinformation is rampant. We brace ourselves for it when we venture onto our social media channels—but we don't expect it to come from influential political entities like the Deschutes Republicans. It might be tempting for a party that is out of power in all statewide offices in Oregon to want to swing as hard-right as they can to try to placate "the base," but the hard-right is not the basis of the Republican party as a whole. In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, author Perry Bacon Jr. points out that Trump-skeptical Republicans are estimated to be 8 to 10% of the electorate—the total electorate, not just that of their own party. While trying to drive the Republican party further to the right might be a strategy at the national level, it is not working for Oregonians and Republicans like Zika who seem to actually want to get things done for their districts. Leaders who care would be wise to rein in the marketing arm of the local party.