- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon House voted Friday to pull a statue of Oregon pioneer Jason Lee from a prominent place in the U.S. Capitol and replace it with one of Mark Hatfield, the influential Oregon politician and World War II veteran who died in 2011 at the age of 89.

Lee, a 19th century missionary and founder of the school that became Willamette University, is depicted in one of Oregon’s two statues in the halls of Congress, but Hatfield supporters said a new statue would showcase Oregon to the nation in a “new era.” Opponents questioned the process and the timing of the change.

“Mark Hatfield was a great man,” said Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie. “But I’m very concerned about the process - that no one else was considered except Senator Hatfield.”

In his long career in public service, Hatfield served in both houses of the Oregon Legislature, as secretary of state, governor and a U.S. senator. Representatives on both sides of the aisle supported the bill and praised Hatfield, a Republican who was well-known for his willingness to buck the GOP.

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 Senator stood for what we should be standing for every day in this building and I want to honor him by sending a statue to Washington, DC to demonstrate and to remind us that Oregon flies by her own wings,” said Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem, alluding to the state motto.

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 39-18 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.

The measure revives the issue after a similar bill passed the House last year, but failed in a Senate committee. This time around, the bill’s sponsors built in new provisions that would create a process to allow for new statues to be rotated onto display. Under current rules, statues can be rotated, but must remain on the Capitol for 10 years.

Few legislators stood up for Lee on the House floor Friday, but he got plenty of support from members of the public, who told the House Rules Committee earlier this week that voters deserve a choice in the matter and argued that a Hatfield statue would be more appropriate on state Capitol grounds.

“Contemporary generations should not judge historical figures,” said Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, adding that he believed in a “waiting period” between a person’s death and the effort to memorialize them.

The change from Lee to Hatfield was championed by Reps. Vic Gilliam, a Silverton Republican who worked for Hatfield in the Senate, and Jennifer Williamson, a Portland Democrat.

“I think it would be a fair claim that after Abraham Lincoln, he was certainly one of the greatest Republicans of all time,” said Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, who supported the bill.


Reach reporter Chad Garland on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/chadgarland

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