Editorial: Kitzhaber should sign mascot bill

Both houses of the Oregon Legislature have voted by large margins to relax a ban on Native American-themed mascots in high schools.

Margins of 41-19 in the House and 25-5 in the Senate, however, apparently aren’t enough for Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has said he will veto the measure.

SB 215 sponsor Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, told us he has written to the governor asking him to reconsider. We think he should, both on the merits of the bill and the size of the legislative margin of approval.

If it became law, SB 215 would partially reverse a 2012 state Department of Education order to remove all Native American-themed mascots from the state’s schools. Instead, schools could retain the mascots if they won the approval of a nearby tribe.

Testimony before the Legislature and Education Department revealed a deep divide in attitudes about the mascots. Some tribes argued that they are insulting and demeaning, while others disagreed. We see important distinctions depending on the words involved. It’s easy to see why, for example, “squaw” or “savage” might be offensive, but harder with “chief” or “brave.”

But most critically, we like the model of schools and tribes in local areas working it out. That’s already happened in Roseburg, where the school and the Cow Creek Bank of Umpqua Tribe made mutually agreed-upon changes. Working together on the issue has improved communication and understanding, fostering a more constructive relationship.

The margin of approval for SB 215 is enough to override a veto, but Kruse said that won’t happen, because votes tend to shift after a veto. The overwhelming legislative approval, though, deserves the governor’s consideration. Unlike in his earlier governorship when he earned the moniker “Dr. No” because of his frequent vetoes, Kitzhaber has exercised great restraint this time around. Respect for the legislative decision has value, especially in the face of such a mixed reaction from the tribes.

Kruse said he doesn’t expect Kitzhaber to sign the bill. What he’s hoping it that the governor will reconsider and decide to let the bill become law without his signature.

That would be a big improvement on a veto, though we’d prefer a signature.