New County Chair Vows to Defy Covid-19 Orders for Thanksgiving

Incoming Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith has served up some controversy this week, promising to defy the governor’s coronavirus restrictions by hosting a large Thanksgiving gathering — and inviting “as many family and friends” as possible.

“My family will celebrate Thanksgiving with as many family and friends as I can find,” she said in a public post on her personal Facebook page Saturday, which she also shared to her political page. “Gov Brown is WRONG to order otherwise.”

Smith, who will start her term as chairwoman of the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners in January, doubled down in a follow-up post, touting her belief in the rights of her family members, friends and constituents to make “informed decisions” about how they wish to celebrate Thanksgiving or any other holiday.

“The people I represent are informed, intelligent and educated citizens of the US and Clackamas County,” Smith said in the Nov. 15 post. “They understand the guidelines set forth for Covid prevention listed by the CDC: wear masks in public, wash hands, six feet distancing and stay home when sick.”

Smith’s defiance was an apparent rebuff to a list of public health restrictions announced by Governor Kate Brown Friday, including limiting social gatherings to no more than six people from a maximum of two separate households.

Unlike with previous clamp-downs during the pandemic — in which the Democratic governor said she preferred voluntary compliance to enforcement — she is now calling on police to “encourage compliance,” including issuing fines of up to $1,250 and even possible jail time for violators.

As chair of the board of commissioners, Smith will play a key role in shaping the county’s response to the continuing pandemic throughout next year.

She has stated in other interviews and posts that she believes further coronavirus restrictions do more harm than good, given the increasing rates of child abuse, domestic violence, depression and suicide associated with high unemployment and loss of normalcy.

Smith’s comments this weekend reached audiences far beyond the boundaries of Clackamas County, as they were picked up in a story by The Oregonian and widely reshared, including by the New York Post, Fox News and even the Daily Mail.

On Facebook, her posts drew thousands of comments from local residents — some supportive, others critical.

“Thank you!” said one commenter. “We the people need to exercise our freedom to think and make fully informed choices. We are not stupid or panic-driven.”

“Personal freedoms should not outweigh the public good,” another disagreed. “A public servant should follow what is best for the public at large.”

Others questioned the governor’s apparent plans to “criminalize” Thanksgiving dinner, including one who claimed to have contracted the coronavirus in early March, when the pandemic had just reached Oregon — and testing was extremely limited.

“Now, crime is confused with not following dubious rules,” he said. “Crime is sweating the load over a cold virus that 99.8% of us will survive handily. I had the covid in early March. I slept for 2 weeks, no big deal. I just had a cold. I had a painful sore throat and lung congestion.”

“You do not deserve to be a leader,” said another commenter, who identified herself as a nurse. “You are THE PROBLEM it is people like you that will break our caregivers and risk the lives of our friends and family. Shame on you! So glad you are NOT my commissioner.”

Smith is a local hazelnut farmer, conservative activist and speaker. She served two terms as a Republican member of the State House of Representatives (2000-2004) and one term as a county commissioner before an unsuccessful bid for Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader’s congressional seat.

She defeated current Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard in this year’s primary, winning more than 53% of the vote.

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