SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A far-right senator who's rebelled against coronavirus restrictions and said he supported protesters who stormed the Oregon Capitol has been elected chairman of the state Republican Party.
State Sen. Dallas Heard's rise comes days after one of Oregon's most prominent Republicans, Knute Buehler, left the party in disgust.
Buehler, who was the Republican candidate for governor in the 2018 election and the GOP nominee for a congressional seat last year, told reporters that he left the party because Donald Trump tried to overturn the presidential election and incited the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The final straw, Buehler said, came when the Oregon Republican Party said the violence at the U.S. Capitol was a "false flag effort" designed to discredit Trump, his supporters and all conservative Republicans.
Heard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his election as chairman of the Oregon GOP this past weekend. He has burnished a reputation as a conservative rebel and has railed against mask mandates, at one point standing on the Senate floor and removing his mask in protest.
During a Jan. 6 demonstration by Trump supporters in front of the Oregon Capitol, he pointed at the building and shouted through a megaphone: "Don't let any of these punks from that stone temple over there ever tell you that they are any better than you. Trust me, I work with these fools."
"Don't be violent, take action, trust in God and take down these fools in 2022," Heard said.
On Dec. 21, Heard encouraged a demonstration where protesters stormed the state Capitol, which was closed to the public during an emergency legislative session to deal with the pandemic. Protesters also pepper-sprayed police, smashed windows and assaulted journalists.
"I'm in full support of your right to enter your Capitol building," Heard told the crowd.
A fellow Republican lawmaker is under investigation after security video showed he opened the door to let the mob in.
Heard, who is from the town of Roseburg, also belongs to a group called Citizens Against Tyranny, which claims Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is infringing on their rights by having ordered businesses to shut down, people to wear masks and follow other safety measures.
The group posted the names of people who reported violations of the rules to state authorities, calling them "filthy traitors." Heard has since said the group's leaders had never decided to publish the names, and the list was taken down.
Heard's Senate biography says he owns and manages several rental properties in the Roseburg area, is a farmer and has owned a landscape contracting business. He was reelected last year, taking more than double the votes that his Democratic challenger won. But Republicans are in the minority in both chambers of the Legislature and say they feel the needs of rural Oregon residents are being overlooked.
Underscoring that frustration, ballot initiatives on expanding the Idaho border to encompass wide swaths of rural Oregon are expected to be on the ballot in at least five Oregon counties in May.
A group called Move Oregon's Border said county clerks have already awarded measure numbers to their initiatives in Grant, Malheur and Sherman counties. The group also announced Monday that it has submitted 141% of the signatures required in Baker and Lake counties. The next step is signature verification.
"Oregon is a powder keg because counties that belong in a red state like Idaho are ruled by Portlanders," said Mike McCarter, president of Move Oregon's Border.
The chances of Oregon counties joining Idaho are slim because it would require votes by both the Oregon and Idaho legislatures and Congress.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky.