© 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 The energy independence we achieved under the Trump administration has been replaced by a return to depending on other countries to meet those critical needs.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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

The Perils of Government Overreach

Last fall, I made some public statements that caused quite a stir. Fed up with the government-forced lockdown of COVID restrictions, I simply said that I was going to have family and friends over for Thanksgiving and that our governor lacked the authority to tell me otherwise.

Although I made national news for this stance and garnered a lot of support, this also resulted in me having my fair share of detractors. I even received death threats, and people who were upset that I was elected chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners started talking publicly about launching a recall against me due to this simple statement that at any other time in history where the political temperature was not so out of line with common sense, would have been an unnecessary and quite boring comment.

Some people were literally accusing me of trying to kill others because I simply wanted to enjoy a holiday tradition with my family. And by the way, for the record, not a single case of COVID was spread due to my Thanksgiving meal. Nobody died and nobody got sick. We had a great time, the same way we do every year.

I wasn’t intending to become any kind of poster child for the growing pushback against government overreach. But it seems that is exactly what ended up happening.

All these months later, my position hasn’t changed, for one big reason: I believe that anything the government does to someone else, it can also do to you. This is exactly why we need to be able to identify overreach when it happens and be prepared to resist it.

It was recently announced that Clackamas, and many other counties throughout Oregon, will soon be back in the extreme-risk category. This would subject businesses, many of whom had just re-opened and brought employees back, to close their doors yet again. It would mean the end of indoor dining for the foreseeable future and more hardship for our job creators, just as they were starting to get back on their feet.

The fact of the matter is, several states are lifting restrictions. Others have been re-opening, and even completely open, for months. There is literally no evidence whatsoever that these states and the people living in them are somehow any less safe than anyone here in Oregon.

Many states have already done away with mask mandates. Some never had them in the first place. Texas allowed its businesses to re-open at full capacity weeks ago. Many states, months longer, with no marked spike in Covid related deaths.

Yet, despite all of that, Oregon’s OSHA is considering extending the rules requiring masks and social distancing in all businesses indefinitely under permanent rulemaking.

Officials will not state how low the case numbers have to be, or what percentage of the population will have to be vaccinated, before those rules ever go away.

A final decision on the rulemaking is due May 4. Now, mind you, these are decisions that are being made by officials that nobody voted for, who do not hold elected office and are in no way directly accountable to the people whose livelihoods they are threatening and even destroying. There has never been a clearer example of the abuses of the administrative state.

We need more than assurances that these rules, if implemented, will eventually be repealed. Anything short of that is government overreach, plain and simple.

The U.S. Constitution was put in place to limit government, to prevent exactly this kind of overreach from occurring. We’re now at a point in time, in Oregon, where government seems unlimited in its abilities to restrict what you, as an individual, can and cannot do.

It’s not supposed to work that way. Government is supposed to work for us.

As the chair of the board of commissioners, I’ve been pushing back on the governor and her agencies’ attempts to close Clackamas County. I will continue doing so. And if this is still going on by the time Thanksgiving rolls around again, you can bet that I’ll be having my family over and won’t be asking permission from the governor or any other politician.