© 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.  

Of Results and Intentions

If it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then it must not have very many potholes.

Time and time again, we find in the public policy arena that decisions are often based on stated intentions. But when push comes to shove, the results of those decisions, policies and programs often come up short and may sometimes make problems worse than they would have been otherwise.

This is especially true when we see candidates running for office. Their pledges are cloaked in compassion. It’s no accident or coincidence that people have been talking about the same issues for decades. Of course they support health care, education and helping the poor. Doesn’t everyone?

What many of them don’t actually say out loud, or publicly, is that once they get into office, the plan all along was to get government more involved with health care and education. And it has. But has education gotten better? No. The federal Department of Education was founded in the late 1970s, with little to show for it since. While I don’t doubt that the intentions behind this were honorable, the results have been disastrous by any measure.

The intentions behind the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act seemed harmless enough on the surface. What candidate would be willing to say on the record that they don’t want people to have access to health care if they need it?

But here we are, a decade later, which is long enough to determine the results. Has health care become more or less affordable in that time? All indications are that it’s less affordable than it’s ever been. Is the government more involved with health care? Absolutely. Is that proving to be a good thing? No.

Our federal government declared War on Poverty back in the 1960s. Who could possibly be against helping poor people?

Since then, literally trillions of dollars have been spent in the name of combating poverty. Entire government agencies have been formed, and their budgets have grown exponentially. Are we any closer to eradicating poverty than we were back then? No. Some studies even show that the results would have been the same if we had done nothing.

We are now at the beginning of another election year. That means that we’ll spend the next several months hearing from candidates for local, state and federal office. They’ll be making all kinds of promises, and we need to pay attention to what they’re saying.

Some of those candidates have already been elected to their positions and are seeking additional terms. Similarly, as voters, we need to base our support on the practical impacts of their policies on our daily lives and not the flowery language used to justify and perpetuate more things that just don’t work.

Most importantly, we need to be mindful of the fact that results and intentions are very seldom the same. We need to demand more results, and remember that intentions aren’t the be all, end all of public policy.

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.

Truth and Consequences

Headlines all across the United States have declared for months that our hospitals are completely at capacity. This has been done largely for the sake of shaming people into getting the COVID vaccine.

But the reasons for the strain on our hospitals are far more complicated than that. And they are the result of deliberate public policy decisions that were made years ago.

It was recently reported that Oregon and Washington have the fewest number of hospital beds per capita in the entire United States. Is that because both of these Pacific Northwest states have so many more COVID cases than anywhere else? No. Is it because both states have higher percentages of unvaccinated residents than other states? Also no.

Following the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, Oregon rushed to be the first to implement all of its provisions. Then-Governor Kitzhaber wanted this state to be the model for the new law’s success.

Under his watch, the state created Coordinated Care Organizations for the sake of emphasizing preventative treatments for Oregonians. However, as a result, the number of hospital beds available at any given time is regulated by the state government. Any hospital that wants to add more hospital bed capacity must first seek approval from the state by verifying and proving that they are needed.

When the ACA was being debated in Congress, many people said that its passage would ultimately lead to the rationing of health care in this country. Time has proven their fears to be entirely founded.

Another public policy decision that’s having an adverse effect on our practical ability to combat COVID has come in the form of mandates.

Frontline workers like nurses have been rightly heralded over the last year and a half as the heroes that they truly are. This whole time, day in and day out, they’ve been helping patients get the treatments they need to survive this awful virus and its related symptoms.

Those same nurses are now being told that they must receive the vaccination in order to keep their jobs. Some are refusing and have different reasons for that which are, frankly, none of anybody else’s business. But having this kind of policy in place will obviously exacerbate the staffing shortages already being faced by the health care industry.

This is another example of deliberate public policy decisions being made with little to no public input and having disastrous consequences that we all have to live with.

It doesn’t just apply to health care, either. The City of Portland tried to impose the same vaccine mandate on its police officers.

Rarely does a night go by anymore without a shooting somewhere in that city. Many Portland police have already retired or resigned due to the failure of its politicians to adequately support them in their mission to bring about public safety. When told about the new mandate, the police banded together and pushed back. And you know what? They city backed down.

There are many lessons to be learned here. The first is that public policy decisions, regardless of their original intentions, have consequences that can sometimes be severe and take many years to become obvious.

The second is that by standing united and pushing back, we can remind those who wish to control us that it doesn’t work that way. We are all born with inalienable rights that our government was created to defend, and no temporary crisis or emergency, no matter how bad, is sufficient grounds for taking them away.  

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.

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.

The Relationship Between Business and Government

The coronavirus and the resulting shutdown continue to have devastating consequences for businesses and workers alike. An economy that had been growing at a healthy pace has literally come to a halt as storefronts remain shuttered worldwide.

Job creators are becoming increasingly anxious amid uncertainty as to when they can open their doors again. Some may never be able to. Many are still incurring expenses, even though their sources of revenue have dried up.

Having been a small business owner, I’m familiar with the struggles faced by our entrepreneurs. Throughout my years of public service, I always remembered the valuable perspective that I gained from that experience. That’s why I feel that it’s important for government at all levels to create policies that enable businesses to grow and thrive.

But far too often, politicians and bureaucrats take the approach that the needs of government must come first. They seem to forget that the revenues that fund their agencies come out of the pockets and paychecks of people who work for a living and those who employ them.

This current crisis highlights the differences between our leaders who understand how business works and those who do not. Those who do not understand are moving ahead with plans to increase tax burdens on employers, employees, property owners and anyone else who pays into government coffers. They’re already bemoaning the lost revenues that they were already counting on to grow government programs, hire more consultants and add to agency payrolls. I have experience in this area. When I first took office as a State Representative, the nation was reeling from a recession. The state’s budget was out of balance, and there were constant calls for tax increases.

As a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, I was tasked with figuring out the best way to balance that budget. And I’m proud to say that we got it done, by prioritizing key functions, and without raising taxes.

Despite the difficult circumstances we’re in right now, plans are underway to raise taxes on the residents of Oregon and Clackamas County. Those proposals were developed when the economy was surging. Now, with peoples’ livelihoods in the balance, and families struggling to make ends meet, those demands for higher taxes are unchanged.  

At the state level, businesses are going to be asked to pay the Corporate Activity Tax that was passed by the Legislature last year. That tax is applied to sales instead of profits, meaning that a business will have to pay it, even if it is losing money.

Also being proposed is a tax increase whose proceeds will go to Metro under the guise of providing services for the homeless. Much like the “affordable housing” measure that was passed in 2018, there is no guarantee that the funds will go towards their intended purpose or do anything to solve the problem. What it will do is give Metro more of your hard-earned dollars to grow its bureaucracy while producing little in the way of results.


I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to represent all of the small business owners, families and workers who are the backbone of our economy. Their needs have been ignored for too long by those who would put government first, instead of encouraging our businesses to prosper and thrive.

Government Exists to Serve the People

It is clear by now that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shutdown is going to hit people and businesses right in their pocketbooks. What can government do to ease the pain for the average family from economic ruin?

The generous unemployment benefits from the federal government will help in the short term, but there’s a higher picture to consider. Suspend the newly enacted taxes that were passed or considered by three levels of government.

Clackamas County residents are looking at having to pay several new taxes and fees being implemented by multiple layers of government. Despite the hardships being faced by many of our citizens, they can expect to give more of their hard-earned dollars to Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon whether you are employed or not.

Clackamas County residents spoke loudly and clearly a few years back when they rejected an increased vehicle registration fee with 64 percent of the vote. Despite that, the current Board of County Commissioners and Chair Jim Bernard worked behind closed doors and without public input to increase the fee anyway.

Metro, a regional agency with a poor track record of effectively managing taxpayer dollars, is insisting that voters approve yet another tax in the upcoming May 19 election for homeless services. At this rate we all will be homeless. Tax increases are being shoved on us while businesses remain shut by government and residents have been told for weeks to stay in their homes.

Instead, plans were made to continue increasing taxes and growing and expanding state and local government. An entirely new tax was passed. The 2019 legislative session passed the Corporate Activities Tax (CAT), which assessed businesses based on their gross sales. It is coming due now.

But anyone who has ever run a business knows that some operate on very slim margins. That method of taxation doesn’t take into account the overhead that businesses have. Some have high volumes of sales with slim profit margins on each sale. Others have higher profits on smaller numbers of sales. But all of those businesses are treated the same under the CAT. The worst thing about the CAT is that it is applied regardless of whether a business is profitable. In short, a business can lose money and still owe the tax.

 During the last few years of economic expansion, the State of Oregon saw record revenues flowing into its coffers. For instance, money was not spent on new computers for filing of the sudden surge in unemployment claims. Nor was there much discussion over the past few legislative sessions of providing tax relief for businesses, individuals or families. A few years back, the federal government gave money to Oregon for computer upgrades. The money vanished where?

Meanwhile, Clackamas County ran up huge budget deficits for the preceding two years while record taxpayer revenues were gathered. Metro, likewise, laid off 40 percent of its workforce due to the closure of its public venues. And they still want to tax us.

Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon exist to serve the taxpayers who fund their budgets, and not the other way around. All three of these entities should be working to make life easier for taxpayers and entrepreneurs, not more difficult. 

Unfortunately, the people who are elected to leadership positions in all three of those organizations are more worried about growing government than they are about protecting taxpayers.

As the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will help guide the county through this and any other crisis over the next few years with an approach based on customer service. There’s sane no reason that struggling businesses and families should be facing multiple additional layers of taxation right now. The right action to take would be to reduce the amount of taxes and fees they’re paying until we can fully recover from the effects of this pandemic.

Getting Back to Basics

All too often, we see what happens when the government tries to do too much—cost overruns, lax oversight, mission creep between different agencies and core functions not being done well. That is one of the many reasons that I’ve always thought government should stick to doing a few things and should seek to do them well.

In my two terms in the Oregon House of Representatives, I saw the results of the state government trying to be all things to all people. My first term began in 2001 and the nation was in recession. I was assigned to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and tasked with balancing the budget amid declining revenues.

Luckily, my colleagues and I were able to accomplish this without raising taxes. We did it by identifying and prioritizing key services. Expensive, non-essential programs that only served a few people were eliminated and spending was brought under control.

In the years since then, our state leaders have constantly expanded the scope of what they think the state government should do. And now that the economy may be headed into recession, the state could be in a world of hurt and potentially painful budget cuts.

One of the reasons I enjoyed serving as Clackamas County Commissioner from 2013 to 2017 is that county government has the unique position of being the closest to the citizens it serves.

During my stint as commissioner, I took the same approach to governance and budgeting that I did in the Legislature. Not only was the budget balanced, but the county had a surplus of funds.

In the years since then, the county leadership has taken a much different direction. The approach has been to grow government’s footprint without regard to the ability to pay for it further on down the line. Consequentially, this fiscal recklessness has meant deficits of $20 million over the last two years and discussions about the need for “rightsizing” county government.

The real problem is that county government got too large in the first place. It’s time to get back to the basics.

County government’s top priorities should be law enforcement and all aspects of its criminal justice system, the infrastructure that is needed to keep people and products moving, and essential services that are valued by citizens, such as alleviating homelessness.

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will use my previous experience to return the county’s budget to sound financial footing. I have a proven track record, at the state and county level, of balancing budgets without burdening citizens with higher taxes.