© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Upholding the Social Contract

There are certain expectations that come from living in a free society. The most important is that, as long as you work hard, obey the law and don’t hurt anyone else, you’re generally free to go about your business peacefully.

That is what is often referred to as the social contract. In exchange for taking care of your business, you are essentially left alone. The taxes that you pay go towards government services that you and your neighbors will use on a regular basis.

What we’ve witnessed, as time goes on, has been a one-way violation of the terms of the longstanding agreement that is the social contract.

Many responsible taxpaying citizens have suddenly found the government and its agencies to be interfering in their affairs for no good reason. Instead of working for them, they feel more and more like those agencies are praying on them. Those agencies become less responsive while demanding additional taxpayer dollars. People start to feel like they’re serving the government, instead of the other way around.

The social contract is one of those things that binds of all, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s an inherent understanding that we all carry deep down inside. But we also know when it isn’t working as it’s intended.

It’s a violation of the social contract when well-connected elites seem to live by a different standard than the rest of us do. If the rules only apply to some of the people some of the time, that means that the contract is not being honored.

There are dire long-term consequences of the continued breaching of the social contract. Business owners who are constantly victimized by vandalism and theft, only to see those crimes go unprosecuted, will no longer wish to uphold their end of the deal. They will relocate their businesses, and this is something we’re already seeing in areas like Portland.

Citizens who feel that their taxpayer dollars are being squandered on things they never asked for will vote against further increases. They’ll also start demanding accountability from their elected representatives who have failed to deliver.

Those were the kinds of circumstances that inspired me to run for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in 2020. As a longtime resident, I was concerned that the county’s budget was becoming bloated. Instead of county services being improved, I saw consultants getting paid exorbitant amounts of money and wondering what benefit we were getting out of it. I didn’t feel that the county was working for the benefit of the people who were paying its bills.

It’s important to me that the people of Clackamas County feel that our organization is holding up its end of the social contract. I’ve made every effort to emphasize and prioritize the services that are most essential to county residents. And I will continue to take this approach for as long as they allow me to serve as the chair of the county board of commissioners.  

All Eyes on Clackamas

Even though much of Clackamas County is rural in nature, it’s considered part of the Portland metropolitan area. The “tri-county area” consists of Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties. Those three jurisdictions are also part of Metro.

Due to the close proximity that some of Clackamas County has with the state’s largest city, it’s subjected to what we’ve long called Portland Creep. This is largely because Portland’s problems have a tendency to spread to its outlying areas. So do many of the misguided public policies that help create and perpetuate those problems.

But over the past decade, Clackamas has also become a political bellwether of sorts. Its direction has gone back and forth a few times, depending on how our residents feel about what’s going on in and around Portland.

What I’ve found is that when Portland Creep becomes too excessive, the residents of Clackamas County push back.

That was the case during the November 2012 general election. There was a proposal in place to raise the vehicle registration fees in Clackamas County to pay to replace the Sellwood Bridge, which happens to be located in Multnomah County.

Voters rightly rejected that idea and also decided to switch the direction on the board of county commissioners. I was swept into office that year.

But four years later, the pendulum swung back in the other direction. A familiar pattern repeated itself, and county residents were soon being saddled with higher taxes, more spending, money going into the pockets of consultants instead of towards essential services and a budget that was out of control.

County voters had enough by the May 2020 primary election. Despite being heavily outspent, I ousted the ethically challenged former board chair. Similarly, voters threw out an incumbent who had been aligned with the former chair in the November 2020 general election. They spoke loudly and clearly that they wanted change, and I heard them.

I took office in January 2021 and immediately set about reversing the previous board’s misguided policies, as the voters had mandated.

We’ve had some wins along the way, but there have also been some setbacks. The changes the voters wanted only directed affected two of the five seats on the board of commissioners. But two more of those seats will be up for election later on this year.

People all over Oregon will be watching this election to see which direction Clackamas County will be going. Will the residents of this county decide to preserve our autonomy, or lump us in with other neighboring jurisdictions that have failed to address the crime, graffiti and homelessness that are plaguing the region?

One of the commissioners up for re-election this May was appointed to her seat with the votes of the two commissioners who have since been outed from office. She has fiercely resisted my efforts to reverse course and is standing in the way of doing so.

The other commissioner who will be appearing on the ballot has failed to be a reliable vote on matters he has claimed to support throughout his career in office.

So which way are we going to go? We have the next few months to figure it out. I remain as steadfast as ever in opposing Portland Creep, but I need fellow commissioners who share that commitment. We need to choose wisely, because the future of Clackamas County depends on it.

The Myth of Induced Demand

Did you know that, at one point, there were multiple other freeways planned for the Portland metropolitan area? It’s true. If the transportation systems envisioned in past decades had materialized, the freeway system would operate in more of a loop than it does now and would have more of a flow to it.

So what happened? Powerful special interests became involved. Those plans were scuttled, and resources originally intended to go towards expanding capacity instead went to an expensive, experimental light rail system.

And how’s that working out for us? We’ve had ample time to see if those decisions were the right ones to make. All indications are that they were not.

The region’s population has grown exponentially throughout the past few decades. But in that time, road capacity has not increased whatsoever. The result is that rush hour has become longer and longer in the morning and early evening. Worse yet, ridership on public transit light rail systems has been in continual decline. For as much taxpayer dollars that have been invested in it, the average person around here isn’t getting much of a return.

These same conversations have been going on for years. Every time it’s suggested that adding capacity may be a way to relieve congestion, those same powerful special interests mount their typical counterattack. Their solution is the same as it’s always been—give us billions of dollars of other peoples’ money, we’ll add some more light rail lines, and everyone will use them. That sentiment is just as false now as it was when it was first used to halt freeway projects late last century.

The main excuse given by road capacity opponents takes the form of “induced demand.” It basically states that, if you do add more roads, it won’t relieve congestion because people will start using those new roads.

Can you imagine using that argument for literally any other piece of public infrastructure? Picture a small city refusing to build a new sewer or wastewater plant on the sole grounds that it will someday be used by members of the taxpaying public. Envision, if you will, a school district adamantly insisting that it cannot construct a new school because students will go to it, as it was intended. Those public officials would be laughed out of the room, at the very least, and more likely forcefully removed from office, for good reason.

Somehow, this concept of induced demand doesn’t apply when it comes to these billion-dollar light rail boondoggles. How is it not induced demand if you’re spending huge piles of money on something in hopes that the public may someday use it? I suppose it’s because time has demonstrated relatively little demand for this service from the average person funding these projects.

At the end of the day, there are reasons people associate the personal automobile with freedom. Having a car enables you to come and go as you please. That mobility also makes it harder for other people to control your movements.

The transportation problems that plague this region are the result of generations of deliberate policy decisions that were based on attempted social engineering rather than consumer demand. They have failed and will continue to fail. Doing more of the same—refusing to build more roads or add capacity—is going to have the same exact results. I just wonder how much worse our traffic congestion will get before people start to realize that we’ve been sold a bill of goods.

Induced demand is absolute nonsense, and nothing more than a myth that is being proven wrong every day on our crowded highways, freeways and streets.

The Freedom of Mobility

The thought of having to have a vaccine passport to conduct commerce and engage in voluntary transactions with other free individuals is understandably offensive to myself and countless people throughout this country and the world. This is largely because many of us recognize this for what it truly is—another attempt by power hungry elitists to control everything that everybody else does. And we’re pushing back accordingly.

We’ve always taken for granted the fact that we, as Americans, are essentially free to come and go as we please. That ability is based on the many rights included in this nation’s founding documents. And it’s a fairly easy concept to comprehend—where I travel, as a law-abiding private citizen, is none of anybody’s business, and especially not that of the government.

However, there has been a massive push to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to institute the kinds of heavy-handed measures that Americans would otherwise reject outright.

There’s a popular misconception out there that the rights we’re granted as Americans are somehow derived from the government. It’s simply not true. Because if our rights come from the government, a sudden change in policy could then mean that those rights no longer exist or can be taken away.

Our rights are inherent, meaning that they are an automatic given. Each and every one of us is born free. The purpose of the United States government, as spelled out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, is to uphold, protect and defend those rights.

Those rights exist, even in times of the most dire of emergencies. They can’t be suspended. They can’t be transferred from one group of citizens to another. Most importantly, they can’t be ignored in favor of mandates that have never had the full and legitimate force of law to back them up or justify them.

This pandemic has been going on for over a year and a half now. The average person has spent this whole time trying to keep themselves and their families safe while trying to continue making a livelihood and keeping the bills paid.

The vast majority of Americans and people anywhere on Earth have not had COVID. Of the ones that have had it, the vast majority got sick for a while, but managed to recover and survive.

From the very beginning of all of this, we’ve been introduced to ideas like contact tracing, in the name of preserving public health and combating the virus. The general public even briefly tolerated the temporary closures of many industries and sectors of the economy because we were told we needed to flatten the curve.

But it’s now impossible to ignore the fact that there are larger forces and agendas at work here. Lines have been crossed, and people have grown increasingly, and understandably, weary of these mandates and orders coming in from on high.

I will continue to fiercely oppose even the suggestion that vaccine passports be implemented as a condition of allowing people to live, exist, work, engage in trade and move about as they see fit. Because even though our rights are a given and should be thought of that way, politicians can decide, on a whim, to stop recognizing them. And once that happens, it becomes very difficult to get them back.

Are We Being Ruled or Governed?

One of the main debates of our time is one that is nothing new. Society has always seemed to be split between people subscribing to two competing political philosophies—some want to be governed and some want others to rule over them and everyone else.

It’s often easy to tell the differences between being ruled and being governed.

When you’re being governed, there’s a rule of law that applies equally to everybody, regardless of status, class, family, who you know or who you are. Those laws are decided through deliberate processes that are open to scrutiny and input from the public. The decisions are made by representatives elected by citizens. Those representatives are regularly held accountable through elections and can be removed and replaced if they fail to represent the peoples’ interests.

When you’re being ruled, mandates are issued without regard to public process. The people issuing the edicts were never voted into power by anybody and were appointed to their positions. It’s impossible to determine how those mandates were developed and no immediate process to challenge them exists. Exemptions seem to be made for certain groups of people and not others. Certain select groups of people appear to always benefit from these decisions, and they’re often the same entities that supported those officials and enabled them to attain their positions of power.

Any citizens who dare question their authority are singled out, treated poorly, made examples of and subject to retaliation.

When you’re being governed, agencies exist for the purpose of providing services to you. Policies governing those agencies are directed with the consideration of input from citizens. Taxes are collected to fund those services and pay employees or contractors to provide them. Citizens are able to contact those agencies and get a response. There are repercussions for managers and personnel if the public is treated poorly.

When you’re being ruled, you are treated as if you exist to serve the government and not the other way around. Rulers think of budgets in terms of what agencies need. If they feel it’s not enough, taxes or fees are raised to achieve the desired results and amounts.

When you’re being governed, agencies’ resources are based on budgets whose amounts are set by citizens and their desired level of taxation.

When you’re being ruled, you are told what you can and cannot do. Your conduct is limited, and you must ask permission to do anything.

When you are being governed, you are assumed to be free. The government is limited to what is necessary to provide the shared services that you and your fellow citizens have agreed upon.

In just under a year, we’re going to be facing another election. When considering which candidates to support, we should ask which of these two philosophies they follow. Candidates who are currently in office who feel we should be ruled need to be removed immediately and replaced with those who feel that we should be governed.

WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR BELOVED OREGON?

“THERE’S A TRICKY BALANCE BETWEEN WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE OVERALL PUBLIC HEALTH OF SOCIETY VERSUS AN AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT TO IMPOSE ITS WILL ON ALL OF US.”

For many of us, it seems like the last year and a half has come straight out of a science fiction novel. That particular literary genre is filled with books describing a dystopian future. Most of those works have served a cautionary tales to anyone who can make the connection between the events depicted in their pages and the real world around them.

A big fear that many of us have had all along is that the COVID-19 virus and its resulting public health crisis would be used as an excuse for a handful of government elites to exercise power and control over every aspect of our daily lives. And that’s exactly what has happened.

Historically, the general public is usually willing to go along with whatever is suggested by authority figures to get through whatever emergency has arisen. The average person tends to be pretty understanding about these kinds of edicts. But once those in charge see how easy it is to get people to comply with their wishes, they start pushing the envelope further and further. It only ever stops because some people look around, see the bigger picture and begin to question what is happening and why. Others then realize they’ve had the same suspicions and also start to stand up.

As this contagion began, most people were fine with wearing masks and social distancing, and even accepted the government-mandated closure of small businesses and gatherings. We were all told that if we adopted these temporary measures, the curve would be flattened and everything would be allowed to return to normal. Weeks turned into months. Meanwhile, people noticed some inconsistencies coming from the policies adopted by the authorities.

Independent, family-owned businesses were forcibly closed, yet large, publicly traded corporations somehow managed to maintain their operations. Families were told they couldn’t have backyard barbeques, yet riots were allowed to take place for 100 consecutive days in downtown Portland.

Mask mandates morphed into contact tracing. Then, a vaccine was developed and made available for distribution. The expectation was that everything would open back up again once enough of the population was vaccinated and herd immunity was achieved.

Incentives were offered for people to take the vaccine. That approach then became a license to threaten anyone who decided not to take the shot, for whatever reason they might have.

We’re at the point where vaccine passports are being widely discussed. If government hierarchy has its way, you will need to show your papers to buy groceries, gas for your car, attendance at school and engage in employment.  This is not the America we know and love. WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR BELOVED OREGON? Even worse, some are stating their desire to essentially discriminate against unvaccinated people through any means necessary.

Luckily, some of us are starting to push back. The arbitrary, capricious and constantly changing edicts coming down from on high have failed to protect the public up to this point. If all of these heavy-handed measures had been effective in the first place, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.

I will continue to fight to protect the rights of my constituents, the people of Clackamas County, because that is what they have asked me to do. Nurses, doctors, firefighters, police, and teachers have all reached out to me in disbelief that they could lose their jobs, their beloved careers should they reject the jab. Vaccines should remain a choice and I oppose mandatory edicts by government to impose it. I do support public health to make available the vaccination to all who willingly choose to get it. THERE’S A TRICKY BALANCE BETWEEN WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE OVERALL PUBLIC HEALTH OF SOCIETY VERSUS AN AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT TO IMPOSE ITS WILL ON ALL OF US. If we don’t resist this slippery slope towards authoritarianism while we still can, we will quickly lose our ability to do so in the future.

What’s next? What’s the next fear induced crisis?

Local Control and the Consent of the Governed

The last year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit have taught us a lot about ourselves, each other and the true intentions of many people entrusted with leadership positions.

Elected officials throughout Oregon and the United States have had the chance to apply their particular political philosophies to direct action in this time. And the results have been telling.

Overall, my stances and statements have been consistent with those that I took when running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in early 2020. I’m a firm believer in the consent of the governed. The people of this county voted for the commissioners to represent them, and we need to listen to what they have to say. We must remember that we’re accountable to them. They are who we work for.

I’ve also long been a proponent of local control. Heavy-handed, top-down governance is a recipe for tyranny. That’s exactly why our representative system of government grants authority to cities and counties to make their own decisions. If the citizens of those jurisdictions are unhappy with what’s being done, they can easily go down to city hall or the county courthouse to make themselves heard. It’s a whole lot easier than driving several hours across the state to testify for a few minutes at a legislative hearing or flying to Washington D.C. to address the members of a Congressional committee. And that’s how it should be.

I also believe that there has to be a source for authority within the law. We’ve slowly become conditioned, over time, to accept executive and administrative fiat as being more legitimate than they actually are.

But every action taken by a governing body or administrator should be traced back to a decision made by a vote of the peoples’ elected representatives. Those officials, or bodies of officials, vote to direct staff to carry out actions consistent with policies that have been adopted in accordance with proper policies, procedures and public processes.

Conducting government business in any other way undermines that body’s authority in the public’s eye.

Part of the problem we’ve seen this whole time is the perception that “leaders” are making things up as they go along. There’s a growing sense that the goalposts keep being moved. Different tactics have been used to pressure individuals and the general public into complying with mandates. We’ve seen everything from financial incentives for receiving vaccinations to threats of exclusion from basic activities for opting not to get them.

People have now been subjected to over a year and a half of fearmongering, guilt-shaming and every other kind of tactic imaginable. But that fear and coercion still haven’t worked. In fact, they’ve resulted in pushback. All this has done is strengthen the resolve of countless citizens who want the freedom to make their own decisions and have that be respected.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask and will continue to stand with the residents of Clackamas County who believe in such concepts as local control and the consent of the governed.

Blindsides, Broken Promises and Burning Bridges

Anyone who is even the least bit familiar with my public political stances knows that I’ve traditionally had a tough time trusting Metro and its officials.

This position comes from years of watching this agency chronically waste tax dollars and fail to properly perform its duties and functions. It comes from my dual perspectives as a longtime Clackamas County resident and from my previous stint as commissioner.

When I ran for chair of the board of commissioners last year, one of my platform planks was holding Metro accountable. That agency’s budget has ballooned over time, accompanied by promises of solving more problems. Despite its poor track record of delivering results, voters have given Metro the benefit of the doubt. To me, that means that it should also be receiving more scrutiny.

Despite my reservations about Metro’s effectiveness, I also recognized the need to work with its board of directors and staff on issues involving Clackamas County and its citizens.

Then I found out that Metro was overcharging residents for trash collection services. In the spirit of fulfilling my campaign pledge of increased oversight for Metro, I scheduled a public policy session to discuss this tipping fee issue.

The session was held May 4. And it began with a Metro official alleging that there had been a noose placed at a facility in Oregon City.

I had no advanced knowledge that this was going to be divulged in such a public setting. Neither did any of my fellow commissioners.

It’s also important to note that the facility in question was not, and is not, owned by the county. You know who owns it? Metro. Who is responsible for the employees who work there? Is it Clackamas County? No. It’s Metro.

This all gives the appearance that a Metro official ambushed the entire Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in a public meeting to announce something that allegedly happened at a facility owned and overseen by Metro, in order to divert attention from that agency’s behavior on the tipping fee issue.

The following day, Metro’s president attacked me in the press about my reaction to the apparently politically motivated blindside conducted by a member of her staff. Again, this was in regards to an incident that apparently took place on a property owned and operated by Metro.

To its credit, Metro did an internal investigation. I was informed, via a June 29 email, that the investigation was inconclusive.

In the meantime, there have been other developments that have served to strain the relationship between the county and Metro. A ballot measure was passed to support housing services. Under that measure, Metro promised the county $24 million by July 1. After all, our citizens are being taxed to fund this program, even though they overwhelmingly voted against it.

We have since been informed that we’ll be receiving $150,000, a mere fraction of what we were told would be coming.

All of this is a reminder of why so many of the people I represent do not trust Metro, its elected board or its many bureaucrats. And it’s only strengthened my personal resolve to fulfill my campaign pledge of putting the people of Clackamas County ahead of Metro and its constant desire for more of your hard-earned tax dollars.

What We’re Working Toward

In order to truly thrive, an organization needs to have clearly defined goals and objectives in place. Those goals should be agreed upon by the organization’s leaders and employees and be understood by all involved, for the sake of achieving a sense of buy-in.

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, my duties include getting a sense of what the county’s residents want us to accomplish on their behalf. That helps us to identify priorities and figure out the best ways to implement them.

Earlier this year, the board went over what its goals are for the next few years. This was done not too long after I took over as the new chair.

Many of the key goals we worked on involved building public trust through good government. My fellow commissioners agreed that the county’s budget should be structurally sound, sustainable and completely tied to results. The timeline for this to be done was originally left vague, as a range of two to three years, with a specific date left incomplete. Under my leadership, the goal now states that it will be done by 2022. The county has already taken the steps to meet that goal.

Another priority area for the commissioners was growing a vibrant economy. The goals for doing that were originally fairly open-ended; the board wanted to increase the number of businesses operating in a supportive environment over the course of two to three years.

I insisted that there be better benchmarks to measure progress. The board agreed. Now, the goal is to have 75 percent of our county businesses reporting that they’re operating in a supportive environment by the year 2024. Even better is that we’re looking to have a 15 percent increase in jobs that meet the self-sufficiency standard wage by 2026.

The board also wants to build a strong infrastructure. We want to find federal, state and regional funding for the next phase of the Sunrise Gateway Multimodal Corridor by 2024. I’m pleased to report that we appear to be on track in meeting this goal, as the county secured state funding for planning and community engagement for this project during the 2021 legislative session.

All of this proves and demonstrates that it’s much easier to get things done when you know what you’re working towards. In a short period of time, the board of commissioners has been able to state what it is that we want to do, set firm deadlines and taken solid, concrete, measurable steps to getting them done. This is exactly what I meant when I said that I intended to use the position as chair to get the county back on the right track. We obviously have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we’ve gotten off to a great start this year.

As always, I welcome all comments. Please feel free to contact me by clicking here.

Let’s Salvage and Manage What Remains

Summer is now officially underway. We can all recall last summer, when catastrophic wildfires touched and torched nearly every corner of Oregon. Devastation was literally everywhere, and much of it remains to this very day.

The small town of Gates, in the Santiam Canyon, is gone and has started the long rebuilding process. In Southern Oregon, a fire left a substantial scar throughout downtown Phoenix and Talent, burning and destroying businesses and homes alike.

Locally, we choked on smoke and faced evacuations as many Clackamas County residents were threatened by fires that came far too close for comfort. That was followed, months later, by ice storms that fell countless trees in and beyond our county.

A relatively dry winter, with limited snowpack and not nearly enough accumulated rainfall, are all contributing to the expectation that this fire season could be just as bad and even worse.

There have been some encouraging signs along the way, though.

In years past, the push to salvage burned areas, pull dead timber out and replant new, young, healthy trees has been met with a brick wall of resistance by environmental organizations. They’ve fought ferociously to halt any salvage attempts by filing lawsuits.

Even in the instances when the courts threw those suits out, correctly recognizing them as frivolous, they dragged the process out for long enough that the timber became no longer economically viable.

Now, we seem to know better. Efforts were made to aggressively salvage many of the areas that burned last year. Predictably, the same kind of lawsuits were filed by environmentalists. But they were largely shut down in court and the salvage activity has continued.

Many of us have been saying for years that managing forests in the first place is the best way to prevent these fires from happening. That way of thinking seems to be catching on, as more Oregonians become adversely impacted from the fires and the toxic air conditions that they create.

Obviously, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, on the forest floor, as well as at our state capitol in Salem and our nation’s capitol Washington D.C. It took decades to get these poor policies in place, and it will take time to replace them with better ones.

But the momentum for change is growing and seems to have reached a critical mass. I just pray that we won’t see more devastation before that happens. I’m not sure how many more fires and close calls this state can afford to have.

As always, I welcome all comments.  Please feel free to contact me by clicking here.