After toying with it a while, Gov. John Kitzhaber finally pulled the plug on Senate Bill 215, the bill that would have allowed school districts to keep team names and logos with Native American themes, despite a state ban, as long as local tribes gave permission.
After weeks of saying he planned to veto the bill, Kitzhaber finally did so on Friday.
Kitzhaber could have allowed the bill to become law without his signature, and we still think that would have been the best option for the governor.
At issue is a rule approved last year by the state Board of Education that prohibits Oregon public schools from using American Indian names, symbols or images as school mascots. Offending schools run the risk of losing state funding.
In the mid-valley, the rule affects Philomath and Lebanon, both of which use the name Warriors and have had or continue to have Native American imagery associated with the word. Schools called the Warriors can keep the nickname but cannot have a logo that depicts Native Americans.
Eight schools known as the Braves, Indians or Chieftains will have to drop the name by 2017.
Kitzhaber said he thought the exemption carved out by Senate Bill 215 – which was pushed through the House by Scio Rep. Sherrie Sprenger – was too broad. He said he preferred a narrower exemption such as the one used by the NCAA, in which schools can keep a Native American mascot if it is identified with a specific tribe and if it’s authorized by that tribe. That exemption allows Florida State University to use the “Seminoles” nickname.
But the distinction between that exemption and the one that would have been allowed under Senate Bill 215 strikes us as so narrow that it becomes essentially meaningless.
In a conversation with the governor last week, Sprenger vowed to personally visit each of those 15 Oregon schools affected by the board’s action and speak with administrators, school board members and the public about the intent of the bill.
“I didn’t work on this bill just so we could keep emblems on jerseys,” Sprenger told a reporter for our sister paper, the Albany Democrat-Herald. “This is about building authentic relationships, and local school districts communicating with tribes.”
Given that, Kitzhaber could have let the bill become law without his signature, adding that he would keep an eye on what happened in those talks between schools and tribes.
Our hunch is that the bill would have played out just about how Sprenger expected, with a series of conversations between schools, students and tribes. Those conversations might have had the added benefit of giving students some real-world education about issues facing Native Americans today.
The governor’s veto of Senate Bill 215 – as far as we can tell, the only full-fledged veto he’s issued this session – strikes us as a missed opportunity.