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Kitzhaber vetoes Native American mascot bill

by: FILE PHOTO - Under the Oregon Board of Educations Native American mascot ban, The Scappoose School District will have to get rid of the Scappoose Indians mascot by 2017 or risk losing state funding to the school district. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed a bill Friday, Aug. 17, that would have allowed for school districts with Native American mascots, such as the Scappoose School District, to enter into agreements with federally recognized tribes to keep their mascots.

Kitzhaber wrote in a letter explaining his veto that he felt the terms of the bill, Senate Bill 215, were too general.

by: FILE PHOTO - Kitzhaber“The broad nature of the bill’s exception to the tribal mascot ban, the ambiguities it creates with respect to the geographic designation of the closest tribe, and the fact that there is not consensus among tribal members and communities in Oregon about this bill, lead me to the conclusion that I cannot support it,” Kitzhaber wrote.

Stephen Jupe, superintendent of the Scappoose School District, said he estimated the cost of rebranding the Scappoose Indian mascot at about $275,000. The estimated cost would cover changing every symbol and name involving the Scappoose Indian, as well as the spear — a symbol used districtwide.

Asked whether the mascot change would be a challenge due to the 2017 deadline or because of the cost, Jupe said, “To me it’s more about democracy and local government. Where does the power of the state begin and local authority end?”

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, said she was disappointed with Kitzhaber’s decision to veto the bill.

“I thought the bill was an excellent compromise,” she said.

by: FILE PHOTO - JohnsonThe bill was passed by veto-proof margins in both the House of Representatives and the Senate as a response to last year’s Oregon Board of Education decision to ban the use of Native American mascots in the state’s schools by 2017. Under the board’s decision, schools that did not comply would risk losing state funding. But historically, the Oregon state Legislature has been hesitant to override governors’ vetoes.

State Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, a lead sponsor of the bill, said that although the bill passed with veto-proof margins, overriding Kitzhaber’s veto would be difficult.

“It’s hard for Democrats to override a Democratic veto,” he said. “That’s just the politics of it.”

Kruse said he will see if state senators and representatives are willing to attempt a veto override, but added he is “not overly optimistic.”

The issue will likely resurface in the 2015 legislative session, Kruse predicted.

In his letter, Kitzhaber wrote that he is open to allow narrow exceptions to the board’s mascot ban modeled on NCAA policy, which would permit school districts to use mascots, names and symbols associated with a federally recognized tribe if that particular tribe agreed to the usage.

But Johnson advised Oregon schools with Native American mascots to begin planning to comply with the Oregon Board of Education directive.

“The bill that brought them relief failed,” Johnson said. “They have the threat of the loss of state support to the school.”