© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

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.  

Putting Clackamas County and Its Residents First

One of the most important function of a commissioner is to represent the interests of county residents. That’s especially true of whichever commissioner serves as chair of the board of commissioners.

As a longtime Clackamas County resident, I’m extremely familiar with the county’s communities and its residents’ needs. I’ve seen the area evolve over the years alongside the neighboring metropolis of Portland. And I feel it’s more important than ever that Clackamas County and its cities have their own unique identities that are independent of the state’s largest city.

Even though some of its cities are considered suburbs of Portland, the vast majority of Clackamas County is rural. I think we need to allow and encourage those communities to maintain and preserve their small town feels and rural characters.

As Portland has grown, so has the severity of its problems. We’ve seen increases of such urban issues as graffiti, traffic and homelessness. But worse yet, some of these social ills are starting to spread out to nearby communities, including some of the cities in Clackamas County.

That’s one of the most important reasons why we need to preserve the county’s autonomy and empower its residents to choose their own collective destiny.

For far too long, we’ve seen the county’s interests become subservient to Metro, the regional governing authority. I agree with the many county residents who feel that Metro is another costly level of government that undermines other, more local municipalities like cities.

In response to the loss of $11 million in revenue per month caused by the coronavirus crisis, Metro has laid off nearly half of its employees. It’s likely that more will be furloughed.

Before all of this, Metro was considering a multi-million-dollar tax measure in the name of funding services for the homeless. And even though thousands of Americans and Oregonians have lost their jobs, Metro is going ahead with its proposed tax measure.

If passed by voters, Clackamas residents and businesses would be surrendering themselves to the taxing authority of one of the worst managed cities in America. 

The idea of having the City of Portland collecting taxes from folks outside its jurisdiction, without the direct concurrence of Clackamas County residents, is simply wrong.  If we somehow got this question before Clackamas County voters asking if they want to have taxes collected from them by the City of Portland, I’m confident they would say no.

Current Clackamas County Commission Chair Jim Bernard has spent his entire political career doing the bidding of officials from Portland and Metro. By contrast, when I served as county commissioner from 2013 and 2017, I stood up to those urban interests and put my constituents first.

Portland’s problems are due largely to its officials’ lack of leadership and the chronic mismanagement of vast amounts of taxpayer dollars. Clackamas County residents should not be left holding the bag for the failures of politicians and bureaucrats from the City of Portland and Metro.

It’s time we had a county commissioner chair who was willing to stand up for our citizens’ interests instead of writing blank checks to bail Portland and Metro out for their failed policies. I’m proud of my track record of doing right by the citizens of Clackamas County, and it’s why I’m running for chair of its board of commissioners.

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.