Portland-area county ditches DEI office, will focus instead on ‘the merit, the talents of every individual’

An Oregon county that includes parts of Portland has voted to close its Equity and Inclusion Office after commissioners agreed that the office was a drain on critical resources and that it created unnecessary division within the community.

Clackamas County, Oregon, stretches from Mt. Hood in the east all the way to a portion of Portland in the west. In July 2020, just a few weeks after the death of George Floyd, the county opened the Equity and Inclusion Office and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into DEI staff and initiatives.

A county statement issued in April 2022 spoke glowingly of “uplifting voices and making the invisible visible within communities” through DEI measures. “We want to grow a workplace where people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and others from historically marginalized communities feel not just welcomed, but also valued and respected as core members of our team,” Jon Hennington, equity program manager for the city of Milwaukie, said at the time.

However, the 2022 election reshaped the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, and though board positions are nonpartisan, four of the five current members are reportedly registered Republicans. Beginning in May 2023, outspoken new Commissioner Mark Shull proposed cutting the entire DEI budget, which amounted to a staggering $828,000, claiming that it was an “unnecessary expense” that “only foments friction.”

While most commissioners were less abrasive in their language at the time, they seemed to agree with some of Shull’s points. Commissioner Martha Schrader, the board’s lone registered Democrat, vehemently disagreed, claiming that her Korean-American son and Chinese neighbors continue to endure racist attacks. “People need to understand it still happens today,” she argued at a meeting last May. “As Oregonians and Americans we need to understand that those kinds of behaviors are harmful to one another, and to me, the diversity, equity, and inclusion piece is the constant reminder that we have to be sensitive to this and we have to honor that.”

Commissioner Ben West, a Republican and Naval reservist who is in a gay relationship and who adopted a black son, argued instead that DEI often encourages a “victim mentality” and creates division within the community. DEI “does not bring our county and local communities together,” he stated through tears at the meeting.

West, Shull, and others have now carried the day, as the board has voted to close the Equity and Inclusion Office effective February 5.

“We’re no longer investing in that ideology,” West confirmed in a recent Fox News interview about the vote.

“We believed that it was really important to focus on merit, fairness and equality, not to racialize the workplace and the county.”

“We value the individual,” he continued. “We value you regardless of your immutable traits.”

“In Clackamas County, we really value the merit, the talents of every individual, that every person has and brings to the county. … A diversity of ideas is important to us.”

While many are celebrating the board’s decision as a victory for true American values regarding liberty and equality, others see it as a step backward. “I’m saddened – it seems like we’re going in reverse,” said Emmett Wheatfall, a former county diversity manager who retired in 2019. “My hope is we can return to moving forward again, but it’s going to take champions.”

The two full-time employees at the office will be reassigned to other positions. It is unclear how the former DEI budget will now be spent.

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