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Opinion: Oregon’s Ongoing Problem with Slavery
The mission remains incomplete.

I consider Craig Berkman – a former Oregon Republican Party Chair and convicted felon – a friend.

As a career military defense lawyer who got sucked into Oregon politics while serving as Oregon’s Veterans Advocate, it always puzzled me why politicians on both sides weren’t more sympathetic to people in jail, at least as a professional courtesy. I suppose Craig’s journey from politics to prison happened because he stole from someone important. One way or the other, he did his time and was paroled to Tampa.

For most of Craig’s erstwhile “friends” in Oregon, his conviction was the end of the story. But for me, it was just the beginning. By the time he was paroled, Craig had seen the inside of “American justice,” and it shocked him to his core. Like Chuck Colson before him, Craig decided to devote the rest of his life to fighting prison slavery via his Free at Last Coalition.

You see, most of us think that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slavery. But a huge loophole remained. Slavery in America is still perfectly legal “as a punishment for crime.”

We are not talking about a court-martial sentence “to hard labor without confinement.” (Soldiers breaking rocks still get paid.) America’s multi-billion-dollar for-profit prison industry is rooted in paying prisoners nothing. It’s a racket which generates billions of dollars of profits per year for the private companies that run the businesses…and for the States that rent out their prisoners and keep the wages.

Given that Oregon incarcerates black people at drastically higher rates than whites, use of prison slave labor is more than a little bit awkward to a Ruling Party in Oregon that won’t shut up about “social justice.”

In using State power to exploit the helpless for profit, for-profit prison industries are simply using the same playbook that giant corporations like Apple and Nike do in collaboration with dictatorships like China. The only difference is that our prison slavery is happening in places like Sheridan, Oregon.

In Tom McCall’s Oregon, the Republican Party stood for moderation, consensus, and live-and-let-live. As a farm boy from Mount Angel, I grew up in that tradition and ran on it when I was the Republican nominee for Oregon Attorney General in 2016.

No one ever told me that my passionate advocacy for fundamental reform of Oregon Justice, the elimination of non-unanimous juries, the fair treatment of all Oregonians under the law, and better stewardship of our environment wasn’t “Republican enough.” To me, Justice has never been a question of Left and Right. It’s a matter of right and wrong.

And that’s how Craig and I were introduced.

The Republican Party was formed in 1854 to complete the destruction of slavery which had begun in New England before the Constitution was even ratified. (When Vermont was founded in July of 1777, slavery was banned outright.)

But the mission remains incomplete.

Craig invited me to work with him in the Free at Last Coalition, and I was proud to join. I brought to the effort the idea that justice reform and public defense are core Republican issues. We are not the Party of rampant, unregulated Capitalism-at-all-costs. Tom McCall’s Republican Party – and therefore my Republican Party – is the party of conservationism, which is rooted in the same soil as conservatism.

Oregon Republicanism must seek to conserve the best traditions of the past, while steadfastly supporting the expansion of the best of society (and government) to all Oregonians. Standing up for the least amongst us is one of those best practices. It’s what Republicanism was created for.

Section 34 of Oregon’s Bill of Rights mirrors the ‘exception clause’ of the 13th Amendment. Section 34 is the basis for legalized slavery in Oregon.

It needs to be fixed.

Oregon doesn’t have the power to singlehandedly change the U.S. Constitution. But we can change our own. Rather than incessant, hopeless recall efforts against a hapless Governor, Oregon’s Republican Party should lead the charge in ripping the last remnants of legalized slavery from Oregon’s Constitution.

Somewhere in Heaven, Abraham Lincoln and Tom McCall are nodding.

Dan Crowe is from Mount Angel. He was the Republican candidate for Oregon Attorney General in 2016. He is against slavery.


--Dan Crowe

Post Date: 2020-08-17 09:47:24Last Update: 2020-08-17 18:27:58



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