Republican Sen. Dallas Heard kicked out of Oregon Capitol for refusing to wear a mask

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Feb. 24, 2022 10:50 p.m.

Heard, the chair of the Oregon GOP, has repeatedly protested state masking rules.

Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, talks to his fellow senators. Oregon state senators gather in the Senate chambers on Feb. 11, 2020 in Salem, Oregon.

FILE: Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, shown here in February 2020.

Kaylee Domzalski / OPB

State Sen. Dallas Heard had been threatening for months to make a major issue of rules requiring masks in the state Capitol. On Thursday, the Myrtle Creek lawmaker and head of the Oregon Republican Party followed through.


For the third time in three months, Heard appeared at a Senate floor session maskless and refused to put on a face covering when asked to do so by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. But unlike similar instances on Feb. 9 and Dec. 13, Heard refused to leave the chamber when told he was violating Senate rules.

What followed was a heated discussion on the efficacy of masks mandates, a debate that laid bare the stark ongoing differences between the two dominant political parties on the same day state officials announced those requirements would soon end.

Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner moved that the Senate vote to exclude Heard from the Capitol for the breach, all but ensuring majority Democrats would kick him out of the building. Heard’s fellow Republicans mounted a defense, arguing that masking rules were ineffective — or at least out of date.

“I was duly elected by my constituents to represent them in this Capitol,” Heard said following the motion. “What does it say to every Oregonian if the voice of one-thirtieth of this state can be shunned and excluded from its own Capitol?”

Heard has been absent from the Capitol for much of the ongoing Legislative session, though has appeared regularly in committee meetings held remotely. When Heard has shown up in Salem, he has said he was refusing to wear a mask in order to protest compulsory masks in schools.

On Thursday, he again argued that mask requirements have been detrimental to the mental health of kids. He also pointed out that more than 75% of adults in the state have been vaccinated — above a 70% threshold Gov. Kate Brown set prior to the omicron and delta waves for lifting masking requirements.

“Wrap yourself up like a mummy if you want, but don’t force my children or someone else against their will,” he said. “These mandates don’t work if the ultimate goal is to protect our children.”

Heard’s tactics have not always been palatable to all Senate Republicans, but he found support on this point. Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, rose to decry what he said was an abusive overreach by Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials. He proposed a change to chamber rules that would do away with the mask requirement.

“Do we need to discipline a member?” Knopp said. “I would suggest, colleagues, that the people of his Senate district … should be the ones to determine that.”


Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, pointed out that he and other lawmakers have not always worn a mask while walking around the Capitol, and said that voting to exclude Heard would be hypocrisy. Sens. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, and Kim Thatcher, R-Keiser, downplayed the notion that masking worked at all.

Only one Democrat rose to push back against those arguments. State Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, pointed out that Oregon’s deaths and cases per capita were below many other states.

“It’s because we have been following the science, and we have largely been doing what we need to to help keep others safe,” Dembrow said. “It’s incumbent upon us all to wait a little longer.”

The long-simmering disagreements spilled out as a modest “convoy” of anti-mask protesters showed up in Salem on Thursday to demonstrate their opposition to ongoing restrictions. As lawmakers debated whether to exclude Heard, truck horns blared through the chamber’s tall windows.

The confrontation also came less than an hour after Brown and state officials announced an end to the very strictures Heard and others have opposed. The Oregon Health Authority will lift masking mandates in indoor public spaces and schools on March 19. The governor plans to rescind a COVID-19 emergency declaration on April 1, more than two years after it was instated.

Before an 18-9 vote that resulted in Heard being temporarily kicked out of the building, Courtney pleaded with him to reconsider his protest.

“You were kind enough and gentlemen enough to text me this morning and say, ‘Good, morning brother,’” Courtney said, looking aggrieved by what was about to occur. “I’m asking you — for me, for the Senate, for [Senate] district 1 and Oregon’s people — not to leave the family.”

While Senate Republicans have long opposed COVID restrictions they view as overbroad and harmful, Heard has frequently taken his grievances further.

In last year’s legislative session, he routinely voted against bills — even those he said he agreed with — in protest of the Capitol being closed to the public. He has described his fellow lawmakers as “fools” and “the enemy” in the context of COVID restrictions, not making any distinction between Democrats and Republicans.

At the same time, Heard has a position of relative influence as chair of the Oregon Republican Party. Earlier this month, Heard stood at a closed party meeting to request support from those gathered to run for governor. He told Willamette Week party members declined to give him that support.

Following the exclusion vote Thursday, Heard went immediately outdoors to address anti-mask protesters.

“The Senate Democrats just participated in another exclusion of a member of the minority party here in the state of Oregon,” he said, urging a clapping crowd to unite behind Republicans in this year’s election. “We have to get out of these superminorities.”

The Senate, as it has most of the session, continued without him.