© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

We Must Not Be Unprepared

Unfortunately, residents throughout the rural parts of Oregon have become used to the ghastly sights and smells resulting from catastrophic wildfires ravaging the landscape. And while these disasters have become commonplace in areas like the southern part of the state, we experienced that same horror and terror last summer right here in Clackamas County.

Our county may be considered part of the Portland metropolitan area, but in all actuality, most of it is rural and includes vast swaths of federal forestlands. Given those circumstances, it’s quite surprising, and extremely lucky, that something like that hadn’t happened much sooner.

Despite all the devastation and property damage we experienced, Clackamas County had zero deaths resulting from last summer’s wildfires. I credit the hard work and dedication of our firefighters and other professionals for their efforts to protect the lives of our vulnerable citizens in difficult circumstances.

Often times, some people characterize these kinds of fires as inevitable and say it’s the result of “climate change.” But many Oregonians started warning us decades ago that the growing trend of leaving our government-owned forests unmanaged would have consequences that include leaving us more vulnerable to massive blazes. They were right.

What that means is, the kinds of fires that scorched earth and caused evacuations in our own backyards mere months ago are avoidable. That’s true, but only if we take the right approaches.

There are things we can do to prepare for these worst-case scenarios. For example, our communities, especially those that are close to heavily forested areas, should have evacuation routes already established and made available to the public. This simple step can go a long way towards saving lives when it matters the most, and should be coupled with an early warning communication system.

Long and short-term plans should also be in place to identify areas of our public forests most in need of maintenance. We must get people back to work in our woods to ensure that fuel loads are limited and kept under control.

Aside from the proactive and preventative steps that can be done locally, the state can also play a role.

Years back, a group of legislators formed the Wildfire Caucus in an attempt to develop legislation aimed at mitigating wildfire risks. That group is still active and meeting as the legislature’s 2021 session is underway.

As a former legislator, I’m familiar with the impact and influence that state lawmakers can have in creating solutions to complex problems. I’ve been in touch with the members of Clackamas County’s legislative delegation. And even though we may have some philosophical and ideological differences at times, I’m happy to report that everyone is on the same page when it comes to this issue. We all agree that the scenario we had last summer is one that we would all like to avoid repeating.

I’ll continue working with our legislators and my fellow commissioners in the coming months to ensure that we do all we can do to make Clackamas County as prepared as possible by the time wildfire season gets here this summer.

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.

Standing with Timber Unity

The legislative Super Majority continues to show its clear contempt for Oregon’s rural residents, with an ill-conceived cap and trade bill being proposed in Salem. Fortunately, Senators and Representatives in the Legislature have walked out of the session to prevent its passage.

Also helping in the fight is that 28 of Oregon’s 36 counties, representing the vast majority of its geographic area and over 2 million of its residents, have officially gone on record opposing this disastrous legislation. But under its current “leadership,” Clackamas County is unlikely to become one of them.

What’s wrong with that picture? Everything. Despite being in the metro area and one of the most populated counties in Oregon, most of Clackamas County is rural. Its residents know the importance of standing up for the industries that cap and trade will devastate, including logging and trucking. Yet the board of commissioners remains silent.

Around one year ago, the Timber Unity grassroots movement shook up Oregon politics and made an immediate impact. The same timber and natural resource industries that built Oregon have been under attack by radical urban environmentalists for decades now. But rural Oregon has now woken up in a big way.

What began as individuals fighting for their families and livelihoods turned into a full-on, extremely effective and organized grassroots lobbying effort. It all culminated in a convoy of trucks meeting up at the state capitol in Salem blaring their horns so they could finally be heard after being ignored for so long.  

While a walkout from several Senators put a stop to cap and trade and the 2019 legislative session, it was well known that it would be back for the 2020 short session. And sure enough, it has been.

Repeating on its previous success, Timber Unity held a second rally at the capitol. Over a thousand trucks circled the capitol blocks to send the message, once again, loud and clear, that rural Oregon has had enough.

As a Molalla resident whose family has worked in our natural resource industries, I stand in full solidarity with Timber Unity. My track record in elected office demonstrates my longtime support for the hard-working citizens in those sectors.

With your help, I hope to represent the county, and these critical industries, as the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.