© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Another Attack on Rural Oregon

One of the biggest problems we face in Oregon is the growing divide between those in the urban and rural areas. And despite all that they might have in common, public policy issues often come up that remind them that they live in completely different worlds.

The most recent example of this is IP-13. It’s an initiative petition that’s being circulated in an attempt to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot for the November 2022 general election. Its sponsors are calling it the “Abuse, Neglect and Assault Exemption Modification and Improvement Act.” But what rural Oregonians already know is that this kind of misguided measure could devastate some of this state’s most critical industries. The fact that these industries are mostly located in rural areas is certainly not lost upon those who live there.

The worst part of this proposal is that its proponents admit in their own materials that it will deliberately damage agricultural, farming and ranching operations throughout this state. The website promoting the measure states that “this would impact many industries that currently involve animals.”

“Although IP-13 does not ban any particular industry, it does criminalize many of the common practices that currently exist in these industries,” the website states.

If passed, IP-13 would “remove the exemption for hunting, fishing and trapping from our cruelty laws.”

“Animals being raised for their meat would have to be processed after they die of natural causes, such as old age,” the website states. “This would certainly increase the cost to raise animals.”

What do Oregon’s agricultural producers think of this proposal? Well, the Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB) is taking a strong stance in opposition.

On its website, www.oregonfb.org, the bureau states that the measure “would criminalize good animal husbandry practices, hunting and fishing, animal breeding of both pets and livestock, and even home rodent control. It also would create a new felony category for teachers, advisors, or parents who show children how to care for animals.”

The OFB says that IP-13 would effectively make it a sex crime to artificially inseminate animals and potentially targeting preg-checking and even planned breeding of animals.

So where do I stand on this issue? Not surprisingly, I’m right there with our farmers and ranchers.

For generations, my family has lived on our farm outside of Molalla. I know what goes into keeping an agricultural operation going, in good years and bad. And I can’t recall a single time when I thought to ask someone from Portland or Eugene for advice on how to run the farm. Nor do I ever see such a thing happening in the future.

During my service in the Legislature, I always made it a point to be a friend to agriculture and all of its related industries. There are many reasons why.

At the end of the day, agriculture is Oregon’s top industry. Cattle contributes nearly $1 billion to the state’s economy, and it is the state’s number one agricultural commodity as a result. Our farmers and ranchers are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people, who do what they do extremely well. They deserve our support, instead of these constant attempts to undermine their livelihoods.

In the coming weeks and months, you may be approached by petitioners requesting you to sign IP-13 so it qualifies for the ballot. I recommend refusing that request. We need to stand with our agricultural producers and reject this latest attack on rural Oregon.

My Vision for Clackamas County and Its Future

The last few weeks that I’ve spent campaigning in person and online have given me the chance to think about what kind of future I would like to see for Clackamas County and its residents.

It’s important for leaders to have a road map in mind so they can set the right priorities and determine if progress is being made. Goals and benchmarks help guide the path forward.

My top priority right now would be to make sure that the county, and all of its businesses, are re-opened as quickly as safely as possible. The coronavirus crisis has shown how important it is for the county to be prepared for an emergency and have adequate reserve funds. I will help the county plan for those eventualities through my Federal Emergency Management Agency training.

Under my chairmanship, the county will be planning better for tomorrow’s challenges. That way, the next time a recession hits, the county government won’t have to make cuts or sacrifice services.

The county budget should be balanced without the need for additional tax burdens on our property owners, businesses, families and workers. I helped balance the state budget as a member of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee as we recovered from recession. This was done by prioritizing programs instead of raising taxes.

Ideally, the county should have a budget surplus. It did the last time I was county commissioner, and I will work to make sure that it does again.

I envision county residents being able to commute to work safely on well-maintained roads with adequate traffic capacity. I see the sheriff’s office funded responsibly enough to be well-staffed so that deputies are able to respond quickly to calls for service.

My vision includes courthouse facilities that the county leases with parking, elevators and Americans with Disabilities Act access already in place and that is easy for public transportation and vehicle traffic to get to.  

I see strong, healthy, vibrant, diverse communities throughout Clackamas County that are independent of Portland and maintain their unique characters. They include everything from suburbs like West Linn, Happy Valley and Lake Oswego to smaller, more rural towns like Molalla, Sandy and Estacada.

I picture thriving main streets where merchants and neighbors know each other. I see small businesses that are locally owned and operated open their doors for tourists, visitors and residents alike. I envision people coming from all over the world to enjoy outdoor recreation in our majestic mountains and on our rivers.

I dream of seeing those same business owners feeling well-served by their county government, instead of constantly being asked to fund its bureaucracy and those of Metro. I see a county government that takes a responsive, proactive, customer service-based approach and puts its residents’ needs before those of itself, Metro and Portland.

This is what I have in mind and why I am running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners. I’m asking for your vote and for you to turn in your ballot by May 19.

Enough is Enough

Every election is about choices, and the upcoming May 19 primary voters will never see a bigger contrast in two candidates.

Citizens decide every two or four years if they’re happy with their political leadership. If are, they stay the course and incumbents are re-elected. But if they aren’t, they decide it’s time for a change and new leaders take office.

Elections are never without consequences.

In 2016, voters took a chance on electing Jim Bernard as chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners. They gave him the benefit of the doubt and believed his campaign promises. So, what do we have to show for almost four years of Bernard’s chairmanship?

When Bernard took over as chair, the county’s budget was not only balanced, but it had a surplus. That was the result of my own personal efforts, and it was achieved without raising taxes on county residents.

As chair, Bernard also had the benefit of record revenues coming into county coffers. Instead of prudently managing those limited resources, Bernard decided the county government should rely more on consultants and pay them for all kinds of “special projects” that don’t benefit the average citizen.

The results of this approach have been predictably disastrous. They’ve led to the county’s budget being $20 million in deficit the last couple of years. Officials have called for a “rightsizing,” which is an acknowledgement that county government has grown beyond the means of properly funding it.  

When I was on the Board of County Commissioners, Clackamas County residents were being asked to pay higher vehicle registration fees to pay for a bridge in Multnomah County. Our taxpayers were being put on the hook for bailing out a neighboring county because of its inability and unwillingness to maintain its own infrastructure. I took up the efforts to fight back, and we were successful. The people of Clackamas County stood up, said “no,” and were heard.

Under the chairmanship of Jim Bernard, county residents will see an increase in their vehicle registration fees. But it wasn’t due to a vote of the people. Rather, it’s due to a decision that was made behind closed doors without public input.

As county commissioner, I fought to make sure Clackamas County had its own unique identity that was independent of Portland and Metro. Jim Bernard has spent the last few years catering to interests representing those entities. In fact, he personally contributed money to the political action committee that is promoting Metro’s new income tax measure. Metro also billed the county $5,000 for campaign measures, essentially using your tax dollars to campaign for more tax dollars.

Not only is Jim Bernard personally contributing to this campaign—you are, too, through your tax dollars.

One of the reasons Bernard is able to contribute to campaigns to raise taxes is because his own personal property taxes have been reduced by almost one-third. Last year, Bernard, as chairman of the board of commissioners, successfully petitioned the county assessor’s office for the reduction. That office obliged. It’s surprising that he would need any tax relief, as he and his wife, a county department head, bring home over a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer-funded salaries every year.

Over the years, Bernard has also been fined $12,000 for failing to report a campaign contribution and found guilty of abusing his position by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. After he was found guilty, he fully intended to have county taxpayers pick up the tab for $20,000 in legal bills he incurred fighting the proven charge. Political pressure prompted his fellow commissioners to make Bernard pay his own attorney fees.

They say that that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. If that’s the case, then Clackamas County residents know what to expect from another four years of Jim Bernard as chair of the board of commissioners. It involves higher taxes for you, lower taxes for him, more consultants, more special projects, more billion-dollar boondoggles and questionable ethics on display. The big question is, have you had enough?

I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to give voters a clear choice. There is an alternative to the high tax, high spending policies that continue to undermine the prosperity of businesses, individuals and families in Clackamas County. I proudly stand behind my over two decades of public service as I ask for your support and your vote.

My Closing Arguments

The May 19 primary election is just around the corner. Voter pamphlet statements have gone out, and people have received their ballots. Many have even turned them in by now. Yard signs are up, and so are field signs. Campaign websites are filled with content, candidate social media pages are active and voters’ mailboxes are flooded with election-related materials.

The coronavirus crisis is unprecedented in our elections, which means that we have to do things differently. It has limited the amount of grassroots, retail politicking that candidates can do. Gone are the handshakes, parades and town hall meetings. Instead, they’re replaced by virtual meetings broadcast over the internet.

These next few days are especially critical in my race for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners. Since there are only two candidates, there will be no runoff in the November general election. It will all be decided on May 19.

I’ve been using all the available means over the past couple of months to make the case as to why I should replace Jim Bernard as the chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners. The biggest reason is that I feel the county is heading in the wrong direction under his “leadership” and I think I can do a better job.

As a former small business owner, two-term member of the Oregon House of Representatives and commissioner, I have the right experience. I was on the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee and helped balance budgets, even in difficult times. Under my leadership, Clackamas County’s budget had a surplus. It has been squandered in the years since and replaced with growing deficits.

Our residents are spending more time stuck in traffic on roads that haven’t been maintained, while billion-dollar, fixed route light rail boondoggles continue to be forced on them. Homelessness from Portland is making its way to our communities, due to decades of public policies that make housing less affordable for working people. But instead of focusing on these problems, Bernard has called for higher taxes to pay more consultants for “special projects” that do not benefit county residents.

These problems have been perpetuated and made worse over time, and no amount of tax dollars going to the county, or Metro, is going to make them better. It’s been a matter of misplaced priorities and reckless spending that I intend to put a stop to.

Instead of incurring debt and raising taxes to construct a new courthouse, I will lead efforts to lease and renovate existing commercial space for a fraction of the cost. I will put Clackamas County residents first, not county government, and certainly not Metro.

My emphasis will be on customer service and being responsive to what county residents want and don’t want. County government will work to prioritize key services that aren’t already provided at the city, state or federal levels.

Lastly, I will advocate for loggers, ranchers, farmers and truckers and stand with business owners to create a more prosperous county. I will work to create an environment where the entrepreneurial spirit can thrive, instead of treating businesses and their owners as revenue sources to continue growing county government.

But I need your help to do all this. I need you to turn in your ballots by May 19 so they can be counted and our voices can be heard. And together, we can, and will, get Clackamas County back on the right track.

Public Service Should Be a Sacrifice

I still fondly remember the two terms that I served in the Oregon Legislature. Because I was on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, each legislative session meant getting to the capitol early each morning and staying well into the evening for meetings. I would leave my family farm as the sun was rising and make the commute to Salem, perform my legislative duties, drive home, go to bed and repeat that routine until the session was adjourned.

What most people don’t know is that individual legislators have very little power. I was in the Oregon House of Representatives, which meant that mine was only one out of 60 votes in that body. Back then, legislators were paid very little in the way of a salary. Many members were retired or independently wealthy because the body was thought of as a part-time citizen legislature.

So why did I do it? It’s simple: I wanted to serve the public and represent my constituents.

I took a similar approach in the four years I served on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners from 2013 to 2017. That whole time, I never lost sight of the people I was working for.

One of the biggest reasons I’m running for chair of the Board of Commissioners is I don’t feel that is the approach being taken by Jim Bernard. All indications are that he is putting his own interests before those of the county’s citizens.

Last year, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC) found him guilty of ethics violations.

The violation stemmed from the fact that Bernard’s wife worked as the head of a county department. He voted to approve her hiring one year after they got married, instead of recusing himself. In the years since, Bernard has failed to recuse himself from votes to approve pay raises for her.

Bernard got himself in trouble with the OGEC when he used his position as chair of the Board of Commissioners to attempt to obtain documents that his wife could possibly have used in a lawsuit against the county. Her request for information was discussed at a commissioner meeting, and he did not declare a conflict of interest. An executive session was held to discuss the records request. Bernard attended part of that meeting.

What public interest was Bernard serving through all of this? How did his actions benefit the residents of Clackamas County? Well, they didn’t. Situations like this are why the OGEC exists in the first place.

The OGEC launched an investigation and found him to be guilty of ethics violations. State law prohibits public officials from using their positions to benefit themselves, and the OGEC found that Bernard was using his position as chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to directly benefit he and his wife.

Bernard then had the audacity to ask that the county pay the legal fees he incurred throughout the process. Although his fellow commissioners initially agreed to it, they later changed their minds due to public outcry.

Again, how does having the public pay his personal legal bills serve the public?

Although Bernard has no problem asking county taxpayers to pony up more in property taxes to fund the county and Metro, he isn’t willing to make the same sacrifice. He successfully petitioned the county assessor’s office to reduce his own property taxes by nearly one-third last year.

What’s obvious here is that Jim Bernard is more interested in serving his own needs that he is in serving yours. It is a matter of public record that he has been found guilty of abusing his official elected position for personal gain.

I’ve always viewed public service as exactly that—service to the public. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners exists to make sure that county residents receive quality services that aren’t already provided by the federal, state or their city governments. It should never be an outlet for any individual commissioner’s individual gain. But that’s exactly what it’s become over the past few years.

Clackamas County residents deserve better than this. They deserve to have their priorities come first, and I intend to honor that commitment, just like I did in the Legislature and during my time on the Board of Commissioners.

A Higher Standard

Public officials are held to high standards, and for good reason—their roles involve being stewards of taxpayer dollars. That’s why it’s important that people holding elected office strive to be honest and ethical.

One of the main reasons I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is I don’t feel those values are being represented in that office. Current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Bernard has a troubling history of ethical lapses.

Bernard failed to recuse himself on votes to approve his wife as the director of the county’s tourism and cultural affairs department one year after marrying her. He subsequentially voted to approve budgets and pay raises for her.

Around a year ago, The Oregon Government Ethics Commission found Bernard guilty of ethics violations following an investigation.

According to this Oregonian article, Bernard “broke state ethics laws when he used his official position and government email to urge the county to hand over records to his wife for a possible lawsuit against the county.” It was also found that he “failed to declare a conflict of interest at a meeting where his wife’s request for information was discussed” and “attended part of the executive session where his wife’s request for records was discussed.”

Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 244.040(1) prohibits public officials from using or attempting to use their official position or office to obtain a financial benefit or avoid having a financial detriment for themselves, their relative or household member, that would not have otherwise been available but for holding their position or office. 

To make matters even worse, Bernard convinced his fellow commissioners to have county taxpayers foot the bill for his $20,000 in legal fees pertaining to the investigation of his unethical conduct. That is despite the fact that Bernard and his wife cost taxpayers a quarter of a million dollars per year in salary alone. It is substantially more once you include the costs of their insurance and PERS contributions.

Due to pressure from concerned citizens, commissioners eventually asked Bernard to pay his own legal bills. It never should have come to that. However, his fellow commissioners likely grew weary of the bad publicity they were receiving from that ill-advised decision.

Bernard has never been shy about his desires to have county residents pay higher property taxes, to both the county and to Metro. He is supporting Metro’s pending property tax proposal.

But what most people don’t know is that Bernard himself has gone through the process of having his own personal property taxes reduced. Last December, he filed an appeal with the county assessor’s office, asking for a 32 percent cut in his property taxes. That’s right—he got his own property taxes reduced while supporting additional increases to the property taxes you will be paying.

I’m proud to say that I’ve never been found guilty of ethics violations, nor have any such complaints been filed against me during my multiple stints of serving in public office. At no point did I ever use public office to directly benefit myself or a member of my family or household.

Elections are all about choices. In this regard, the upcoming vote for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners could not be more clear. Jim Bernard has abused his authority, been found guilty of it, and had the audacity to expect you, as the taxpayer, to fund his legal bills when he got caught. He wants lower property taxes for himself and higher property taxes for you.

As the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will hold myself to a high ethical standard and put a stop to the shameful pattern of behavior that we’ve seen out of that office for the past few years.