When a mob fueled by President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election on Wednesday, there was immediate bipartisan backlash. On both sides of the aisle, lawmakers were calling for an end to the chaos and moreover for a peaceful transition of power to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.
The newspaper reached out to the leaders of the local Republican and Democrat parties for comment and reaction about the unprecedented event.
John Gaskill, chairman of Malheur County Republican Central Committee said that the local Republicans hadn’t met yet so he wasn’t sure how others in his party felt.
“For me, personally, yesterday was terrible,” Gaskill said. “I had a fear for several weeks talking to my son and others that something awful could happen the way the conversation was going.”
He said the voter fraud accusations were so prominent that it gave him a “very sick feeling.”
“I had a pain in my soul for what I saw going on,” Gaskill said.
But it was the way in which Congress got back together and finished what they set out to do immediately after the mayhem, that gave him hope, he said. Despite the disruption of certification proceedings, the lawmakers worked through the night. The House and Senate rejected objections to throw out electoral votes for Biden, and eventually affirmed Biden’s victory.
“It gave me some hope that the democratic process could work and that, in spite of the anarchy of yesterday that, as [President Abraham] Lincoln put it, ‘the better angels of our [nature]’ could come forward,” he said, quoting a famous phrase from Lincoln’s first inaugural speech in 1861.
Gaskill remains hopeful going forward in the new year with a new administration and Congress, that “some good things” will happen.
“I, of course, like the rest of us in the Republican Party would have hoped for a different outcome, but democracy works, elections happen, and hopefully we can maintain and develop that perspective.”
A long-retired history teacher from Ontario High School, he well remembers the lessons he taught his students. Among these: the nation, for more than two centuries has survived on the basis of elections and transitions of power, moving forward, and continuing to take care of the common good.
Getting back to ‘the American Dream’
When asked what voters need now more than anything in order to feel secure about the process in future elections, Gaskill focused on positivity.
“In spite of how we might feel about election outcomes or about individuals who are elected or not, we need to be positive in our feelings about the government that We The People created 200 years ago and that we’ve maintained since then,” he said.
It works best, Gaskill noted, when people are involved in a positive way, which includes communicating with elected officials from the city level all the way up to the national level.
“Let them know what your concerns are. Be involved in positive ways in your community and in your area,” he said.
Additionally, he said, people should strive to ensure the government is doing what it should be doing, “and that is serving the people and serving the needs of its citizenry in all levels ... so that we can make the American Dream work.”
Gaskill said people who feel upset or left out by whatever the results are simply need to try to help those in elected positions understand their needs and their perspectives.
“We have to remember that we are a government by the people, not by something else. And people are human beings, and as good as we are, and as good as elected officials might be, they still need guidance,” he said.
In an example, he pointed to Oregon’s Second Congressional District Rep. Cliff Bentz, a freshman in the U.S. House of Representatives, who prior to that had served in the Oregon House and Senate for a combined total of 12 years.
“He’s a good person, he’s very experienced, he’s got a lot of background — but he’s not a superhuman,” Gaskill said.
Citizens taking ownership and responsibility is integral to the whole system, he said, admonishing those who took place in storming the Capitol on Wednesday.
“The violence and the vitriol and animosity at any level doesn’t help for any reason,” he said. “It’s just of no value, it’s of no benefit.”
Rather, Gaskill said, people should do what is within their rights, such as petition and gather peacefully. The only “useful purpose” of violence in the case of D.C., he said, was that it may cause reflection. Gaskill hopes people will take a step back and take a second look at how things are operating, perhaps being able to come closer together to find common ground and common solutions versus yelling and labeling.
“We’ve been reminded [in history] over and over by people in politics and other venues that democracy is a great system — but it is extremely fragile. It relies on the goodness of the citizenry.”
Request for comment from Democrat Party Chairman Sammy Castonguay was not returned by press time.