New County Chair: ‘Governor Brown Has No Authority Over Me’

One day after the outgoing chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners criticized local mayors and businesses who had intimated their plans to reopen early, the new chair made clear where she stands on the state’s restrictive approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tootie Smith, who defeated Jim Bernard in the May primary and will soon return to the commission after a four-year absence, spoke at a rally before the Oregon State Capitol on New Year’s Day, blasting Governor Kate Brown for her pandemic executive orders.

More specifically, Smith took issue with the governor’s statement the day before, threatening fines, suspensions and other penalties for businesses and communities that repeatedly defy the state’s Covid-19 mandates — a course of action she described as “Gestapo-like.”

“Let me be clear: Governor Brown has no authority over me or any other elected official in Oregon,” Smith said Friday, to raucous applause from the crowd. “I stand for freedom, smart health programs that heal and allowing people to make intelligent decisions.”

Smith, who has no formal medical or scientific training, lamented the economic, educational and human costs of the lockdowns, saying they have led to crippling mental health crises for youth as well as a rise in unemployment, addictions and suicide.

What’s more, she argued, the impacts have been disproportionately weighted to independently owned and operated businesses.

“These so-called progressive Covid laws that were designed to save us have turned into regressive mandates, taking our communities, counties and cities backward,” she said. “Clackamas County small businesses will not survive the closures, while favors are given to the big box stores and multi-billion dollar companies to remain open.”

Smith, who made national headlines in November with her stated plans to host as large a Thanksgiving gathering as possible, argued that there are more effective means of managing the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, which she claims state leaders are ignoring and simply “hoping that the bugs will magically go away.”

“We can manage Covid better that will allow businesses, public schools and governments to open,” said Smith, who later posted a livestream of the event on her Facebook page. “Many doctors and scientists tell me our understanding of the virus has grown, yet Oregon’s policies don’t show that.”

Smith advocated for the use of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and germicidal ultraviolet lights to curb the pandemic, similar to those adopted by hospitals and airlines — which have remained relatively outbreak-free despite crowding large numbers of people into close quarters for hours at a time.

While saying a vaccination for Covid-19 is “on the horizon” (in fact, almost 40,000 Oregonians had received it as of Dec. 30, including more than 3,200 Clackamas Countians), she expressed skepticism at the state’s roll-out plan.

She said people should have a choice as to whether to take the vaccine (it is currently voluntary) and seemed to imply that simply letting the virus run its course would work just as well.

“We still need herd immunity for it to work, and that means getting out there,” she said. “Covid has a 99% survival rate. Instead, our government leaders tell us just the opposite, and fear is driving the bus. Don’t let the government lie to you. Speak your truth.”

The rally at the State Capitol was organized by Oregon Women for Trump and included participants claiming affiliation with the Proud Boys, according to reporters on the scene. Joey Gibson, a right-wing activist and founder of Patriot Prayer, spoke at the event before Smith took the mic.

A number of businesses across the state participated in the “Open Oregon” protest, according to OPB reporter Sergio Olmos, including some in Canby and Molalla.

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