When Knute Buehler campaigned last autumn for a seat in the Oregon House, he proudly stated his afflation with the Republican Party, but he also went out of his way to identify his political positions that differ from the political party's traditional platform. Moreover, he promised to think and vote independently from his party and to set his own course.
As the region's demographics have shifted over the past decade, from two-to-one Republican, to an even split between Republicans, Democrats and Independents, it seemed as if either Buehler was a barometer of these changing attitudes, or a wise politician trying to match his promises to the polls. And, it paid off: He received endorsements from prominent Democrats and waltzed to a victory.
But, it is also the type of reaching-across-the-aisle talk that is popular during campaigns, only to melt away in the heat of the realities of preserving voting bases and peer alliances.
This past week, though, Buehler put his clout where his mouth is, and was the only Republican on the Health Care Committee to support HB 2307, a bill that seeks to outlaw so-called conversion therapy, a "treatment" that tries to force gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth to become straight, and which has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Under the proposed Youth Mental Health Protection Act (HB 2307), all licensed medical care providers will be banned from practicing "conversion therapy" on youth under the age of 18.
In a press release, Buehler explained, "As a physician and someone who has supported marriage equality and civil rights for our minority communities, I see banning conversion therapy as another step forward on the road to civility, equality and understanding in Oregon."
He added to those comments, "This is a vote for tolerance and the recognition that all men and women are created equal, regardless of how they come into this world and regardless of who they choose to love."
And, moreover, Rep. Buehler underscored his role as independent thinker.
"Each day," he explained, "I come to this grand building and work hard to be worthy of the inclusive campaign I ran which avoided narrow political labels. Some days I do better than others. However, today I am confident we have the opportunity to make a difference by ending a practice of psychotherapy that should have long ago been outlawed—so called conversion therapy."
Buehler's approval of HB 2307 on the Health Care Committee helped send the bill to a vote by the full Oregon House of Representatives and, on Tuesday, they went on to vote 41-18 to ban conversion therapy.
Historically, Central Oregon representatives have pulled social issues more toward the conservative end of the spectrum. But, in the context of other Central Oregon representatives, Buehler's "yes" vote on HB 2307 helped to split the vote 2-2. Rep. Mike McClane, the Republican representative from District 55, which covers southeast Deschutes County and Crook County, also voted "yes," while Rep. Gene Whisnant, who represents District 53 outside Bend, and Rep. Huffman whose District 59 covers parts of Deschutes, Jefferson and Wasco counties, voted "no."
Had Buehler stuck with the rest of his Republican representatives on the Health Care Committee, there certainly is the possibility that the bill would have arrived on the floor of the Oregon House branded as a bipartisan idea; one that Democrats favor, but Republicans oppose. Instead, whether subtle or direct, Buehler's ability to think and act as an independent, sent the bill for a vote based on its merits and not politics.
The bill now moves to the Senate for a full vote.