© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

The Perils of Progressive Policies

As of right now, so-called progressives have been in charge of Portland for decades, the Oregon Legislature for years, the U.S. Senate and Congress and the White House.

So what, exactly, do we have to show for it?

We are literally surrounded on a daily basis by mounting evidence that the policies they champion continue to fail.

Let’s start at the local level. The City of Portland has long been dominated by the most far-left politicians that city’s population has to offer. There are no Republicans in charge, or even anywhere at the table. How’s that working out?

A soft-on-crime approach has led to an explosion in the number of car thefts. An attempt to appear politically correct caused the disbanding of the gang violence task force. Shootings are a regular occurrence, and the city is now covered in graffiti.

An “anything goes” approach to drug use and homelessness has resulted in the proliferation of tents on public sidewalks. Garbage lies in piles immediately visible from multiple major freeways corridors.

It’s increasingly obvious that what they’re doing isn’t working. And yet, we aren’t hearing any new ideas from the city’s leaders. All we get are excuses and promises that with even more of other peoples’ money, they’ll start to turn the corner on solving these problems.

At the state level, Democrats have held the governor’s office in Oregon since 1987. Even though Republicans held legislative majorities up until 2006 and managed to bring the House to a 30-30 split in the 2010 election, they’ve since been in the minority and superminority in both the state House and Senate.

The state has frequently had record revenues in that time. Taxes have been raised over and over again. But there is no indication whatsoever that state services are any better than they’ve been or that its agencies are more responsive to citizens.

Again, all we keep hearing is that lawmakers absolutely must have more money to make these systems work. But they never will, because there is no accountability for lack of performance or poor customer service.

At the federal level, we’re seeing a culmination of many issues coming together in disastrous fashion. Fiscal literacy and sanity were long ago thrown out the window, and the costs of essential household goods continues to skyrocket. The energy independence we achieved under the Trump administration has been replaced by a return to depending on other countries to meet those critical needs. A foreign policy based on the projection of weakness caused us to abandon our allies in Afghanistan and sit back and watch hopelessly as Russia attacked the Ukraine.

Luckily, we don’t have to be stuck on these trajectories.

We are months away from the November 2022 election, which gives us the chance to get back on the right track at the local, state and federal levels. Pretty soon, voters will be able to ask themselves if these current crop of candidates and policies are working, or if we can stand to do something different.

I eagerly await our opportunity to change course. Because it’s obvious that these progressive policies are not working and that we deserve so much better than this.

Fleeing from a Free-for-All

Over the past year, I’ve written about the decriminalization of two of the biggest problems facing the residents of the Portland metropolitan area and Oregon—drug use and homelessness. Now, some people are hoping to add prostitution to the list of illicit activities that will be allowed to take place in this state.

Efforts are underway to gather enough signatures to place a ballot decriminalizing sex work on a future ballot for voters to decide. This is the same process that was used two years ago to legalize the possession of user amounts of extremely dangerous drugs like methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

The promise made to voters was that instead of ending up in the criminal justice system, low-level drug offenders would be offered the treatment that they need. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

There was never the capacity in place to handle the numbers of people who have sought treatment after the ballot measure passed and took effect. As a result, there are no consequences for those addicts.

Many addicts only get better because they were forced to by the criminal justice system. They reached rock bottom, in part, because of the legal consequences of their substance abuse. But that is no longer happening in Oregon.

Similarly, homelessness has been decriminalized through the passage of legislation at the state capitol in Salem.

Some would argue that drug use and prostitution are victimless crimes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is, addicts’ families go through hell watching their loved ones struggle to get clean and stay that way. And not more than a few addicts steal to fuel their habits, resulting in rampant property crime. It’s also very well known that many people who work in the sex industry got there as a result of human trafficking, which is one of the worst crimes imaginable.

It stands to reason that once you’ve legitimized and legalized something, you will end up with more of it. Are homelessness or drug use decreasing in Oregon, or are they increasing? I see no evidence that either of these things are getting better.

A prime example of this is happening in California right now. That state decided to decriminalize petty theft, and it is now going through the roof. Stores and national chains are closing their doors because of the losses caused by the kinds of brazen thefts that state government is tacitly encouraging.

I used to be proud to say that Oregon was a great place to raise a family. It was safe, the schools were good and there was quality of life.

All of that has become more difficult to truthfully tell folks from out of state who ask how things are here. As it is, many families have already left for other states because they were discouraged by the problems they see getting worse over time. Some of the biggest reasons they left included homelessness and drug use. The decriminalization of sex work and prostitution will not help do anything but convince more families to pack up and leave Oregon.

Finding the Right Balance

Having completely failed to address the homeless crisis in any meaningful way, Portland politicians have concocted another way of dealing with it. This mostly involves passing legislation telling every other city throughout Oregon to take care of the problem while simultaneously limiting what they actually can do.

Before the Oregon Legislature adjourned on June 26, it passed House Bill 3115. This contentious measure passed the House and Senate on largely party-line votes and was signed by the governor June 23.

It’s based on the 2018 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Martin v. City of Boise case. That ruling essentially stated that the homeless can’t be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are adequate alternatives or the local law includes reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

Even though the Ninth Circuit Court is frequently overturned, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal of the Martin v. Boise decision in 2019. Ever since, municipalities have been examining their options for addressing the homeless crisis while remaining in compliance with the ruling.

The first section of House Bill 3115 requires any local law regulating sitting, laying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry outside on public property to be objectively reasonable to the homeless.

If it’s felt that the local ordinance has limitations that aren’t reasonable and are in violation of HB 3115, a homeless person can have a right of action for relief or as a defense to the ordinance. And even though monetary damages are not allowed under the new law, attorney fees are. This will incentivize activist attorneys and organizations to take up cases against local governments attempting to solve their homelessness issues.

An emergency clause was added to the end of HB 3115 so local governments can start reviewing their ordinances to ensure compliance with the new law. The full implementation of HB 3115 is delayed until July 1, 2023 so local governments can develop a plan of how to comply with it.

Back when I served in the Legislature, I always made it a point to vote against any bills that would create unfunded mandates for local governments. Many local governments are small towns with limited tax bases and simply don’t have the time and resources to clean up messes sent to them from bureaucrats and politicians in Salem. Yet that is exactly what has happened here with HB 3115.

We’ve all seen these problems get worse over the last few years. My fear is that the passage of HB 3115, combined with Oregon’s further moves towards the complete decriminalization of drugs, is going to continue this trend.

I’m also fully aware that in politics, there is a pendulum that swings back and forth. And every time it swings too far in one direction, it comes right back.

Oregon’s voters and politicians have decided to take a permissive approach to drugs and homelessness. The results will likely prove disastrous to the average person in this state. However, I remain confident that once that happens, citizens will demand solutions that find the right balance and that properly addresses these problems once and for all.

Freefall from the Free-For-All

A simple drive on the freeway through Portland and the sight of all its homeless camps confirms what many have suspected for a long time—the tendency in this state towards the legalization of drugs has come with tremendous consequences for individuals, families and all of society.

My fear is that the passage of Measure 110 in last November’s general election will only further exacerbate the problem.

Dubbed by its sponsors as the “Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative,” Measure 110 passed with around 58 percent of the vote, with over 1.3 million Oregonians electing to support it. The measure’s supporters raised $6 million for their campaign, while opponents were only able to raise $167,000.

Prominent figures who came out against the measure included Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote and former Governor John Kitzhaber, who had worked for years as an emergency room physician in Roseburg. Kitzhaber said that Measure 110 “makes it more difficult to treat the underlying addiction that leads to drug use in the first place.” Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton predicted that its passage will “lead to increased crime and increased drug use.”

Under the measure, personal, non-commercial possession of a controlled substance will be no more than a Class E violation carrying a maximum fine of $100. It includes schedule I-IV substances like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Even worse, the changes to the law under the measure now allow for possession of one gram or less of heroin, two grams or less of cocaine and meth, less than one gram or five pills of MDMA, less than 12 grams of psilocybin, less than 40 units of methadone and less than 40 pills, tablets or capsules of oxycodone.

Possession of the same drugs had been a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to $6250. Fortunately, manufacturing and distribution of those same drugs will remain a criminal penalty.

In lieu of paying a fine, offenders will have the option of completing a health assessment through the addiction recovery centers created by the measure’s passage. That assessment must include a substance use disorder screening conducted by a certified drug and alcohol counselor within 45 days of the violation.

The drug addiction treatment and recovery program will be funded in part by marijuana tax revenue and the projected savings from having fewer people in prison for drug-related crimes. All revenue to the state’s marijuana account over $11.25 million will be required to be transferred to the Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund (DTRSF) every quarter before being transferred to any other areas. This means that there will be a reduction of marijuana revenue distributed to cities and counties.

A minimum of $57 million in annual funding, adjusted for inflation, is now mandated to be provided by the Legislature to the DTRSF, although it’s estimated that the marijuana revenue diversion will be sufficient to fund it.

An Oversight Accountability Council will be established by the director of the Oregon Health Authority and will give grants from the DTRSF to government or community-run organizations to create addiction recovery centers. Those centers will then be required to provide medical or other treatment 24 hours a day, assessments, intervention plans, case management and peer support.

The recover centers in each Coordinated Care Organization service area are mandated to be established by October 1.

A legislative committee has been assigned to work on the measure’s implementation. My hope is that the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation will consider the consequences of this measure over the next few months as it works on turning it into a functioning law.

Ultimately, there are direct connections between many of the same issues that are causing problems on the streets of Portland. Property crime, mental illness, homelessness and drug addiction are all related. Hopefully, our elected legislators will be able to implement this ill-advised ballot measure in such a way that it will not further erode the quality of life of all Oregonians.

How to Handle Homelessness

Everyone knows that rampant homelessness is a huge issue in the Portland area. But what people don’t know is that there is a solution available that Clackamas County can use immediately to help solve it.

The current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is blaming the area’s growing homelessness on budget cuts. This is, unfortunately, just an attempt to hold taxpayers’ wallets hostage and avoid responsibility for their own blatant, irresponsible mismanagement of county resources.

Funds are already available to bolster programs that are proven to work effectively to address the root causes of homelessness and keep people off the streets. The best part is, this can be done without further burdening county residents with more unnecessary taxes.

As part of criminal justice reform efforts, the Legislature has placed more of an emphasis on community corrections programs. The idea is to keep non-violent offenders from ending up in prison.

 An alternative to incarceration, community corrections programs keep those offenders in the community, so they can keep working, paying taxes, being with their families and contributing to society. Community corrections also offers structure and programs that helps offenders to change their behaviors and has accountability measures to keep them from committing more crimes.

There is a surplus of money at the state level for community corrections programs of around $2.5 billion. This represents a golden opportunity for Clackamas County to deal with homelessness in an effective, yet compassionate, manner.

Homeless who are contacted by law enforcement could be helped through the community corrections system. The cause of their individual homelessness can be determined through that process. If it’s mental illness, it can be diagnosed so treatment can be sought. If it’s addiction, they can be referred to programs to get them clean and keep them that way. Some people become homeless due to job loss. Luckily, there are employment opportunities that can be made available to them through these programs.

These are all evidence-based programs that have been proven to work and utilize existing funding streams.

By contrast, the current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is supporting Metro’s new income tax for the homeless this May primary election.

While sounding altruistic, this is the fourth Metro tax in 18 months and this regional agency has no experience whatsoever in curing the big three causes of homelessness: Addiction, Mental Health and Joblessness. Chair Jim Bernard is abdicating leadership of Clackamas County to Portland by supporting another tax on the backs of our citizens.

Compare how the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office is already addressing the homeless crisis with the programs just mentioned. Instead of taxing citizens to fund Metro with its unproven experience, let’s support out own efforts by prioritizing spending and services, I plan to address this problem effectively as the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.

The Housing Crisis is Largely a Self-Inflicted Wound… And They’re Only Making it Worse

The scourge of homelessness has taken over downtown Portland the past few years.

Tents and piles of garbage are visible from multiple freeway exits and cluster all throughout the city. This problem has now spread beyond Portland and into many other cities throughout the state. We’re even seeing it in parts of Clackamas County.

Politicians are quick to suggest that more government programs, and more of other peoples’ money, will be needed to solve it. But what they fail to recognize is that government policies have been a huge part of the problem in the first place.

It’s true that Oregon suffers from a lack of affordable housing. What many people don’t know is that it is largely self-inflicted.

In 1973, the legislature passed Senate Bill 100, which established a statewide land use planning system. SB 100 and the bureaucracies it set up deliberately restrict the amount of land that can be used for housing.

Simple supply and demand states that if you artificially restrict the land that houses can be built on, the cost of that land will increase. And that’s exactly what has happened.

One of the reasons housing is so expensive in the Portland area is because the Metro council voted unanimously in 2015 against allowing more land to be used for housing.

Another reason is the layers of bonds, levies and property taxes proposed by various government agencies and passed by voters. Many voters who rent their homes are unaware that the increased costs of those measures end up being added to their rent, making their housing more expensive.

For example, Metro asked for over $600 million in bonds payable from property taxes for the sake of creating more affordable housing. Voters passed the measure in the November 2018 election and have very little affordable housing to show for it. I don’t expect this to change.

Governor Brown is also suggesting another tax on homes in the name of making housing more affordable. Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 79 during the 2012 election. That measure placed a permanent ban on real estate transfer taxes in the Oregon Constitution. But Brown now wants to undo the will of the people and use real estate transfer taxes to fund affordable housing projects.

In top of all that, Metro is proposing yet another measure aimed at giving its bureaucracy more money in the name of combating homelessness.

Do you see a pattern here? Government agencies create a problem, make it worse, then demand more money in the name of solving it. Those attempts to solve those problems often end up perpetuating them. In the end, we have the same problems, except they become institutionalized, bureaucratized, more expensive and worse than ever before.

The homeless issue in the Portland area is the result of supply not meeting demand. In other words, there are not enough available housing units for the number of residents who continue moving to the area.

What we should be doing instead is adopting policies to decrease the cost of buildable land by increasing its availability. Giving more taxpayer dollars, through increased property taxes and bonds and levies to be paid by property owners, to the same agencies that created the problem in the first place will never solve it.

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will work to prevent homelessness by advancing policies that promote affordable housing through common sense approaches. I will also work to make the American Dream of homeownership easier to obtain for residents of the county.

We are at a critical crossroads on these issues. It’s clear by now that a tax-centered, bureaucratic approach to housing issues has resulted in more taxes, more bureaucracy, more homelessness and less affordable housing. I am running for Clackamas County Commissioner because I believe the current approach is not working and it’s time to do something different.