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 The energy independence we achieved under the Trump administration has been replaced by a return to depending on other countries to meet those critical needs.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

The Myth of Induced Demand

Did you know that, at one point, there were multiple other freeways planned for the Portland metropolitan area? It’s true. If the transportation systems envisioned in past decades had materialized, the freeway system would operate in more of a loop than it does now and would have more of a flow to it.

So what happened? Powerful special interests became involved. Those plans were scuttled, and resources originally intended to go towards expanding capacity instead went to an expensive, experimental light rail system.

And how’s that working out for us? We’ve had ample time to see if those decisions were the right ones to make. All indications are that they were not.

The region’s population has grown exponentially throughout the past few decades. But in that time, road capacity has not increased whatsoever. The result is that rush hour has become longer and longer in the morning and early evening. Worse yet, ridership on public transit light rail systems has been in continual decline. For as much taxpayer dollars that have been invested in it, the average person around here isn’t getting much of a return.

These same conversations have been going on for years. Every time it’s suggested that adding capacity may be a way to relieve congestion, those same powerful special interests mount their typical counterattack. Their solution is the same as it’s always been—give us billions of dollars of other peoples’ money, we’ll add some more light rail lines, and everyone will use them. That sentiment is just as false now as it was when it was first used to halt freeway projects late last century.

The main excuse given by road capacity opponents takes the form of “induced demand.” It basically states that, if you do add more roads, it won’t relieve congestion because people will start using those new roads.

Can you imagine using that argument for literally any other piece of public infrastructure? Picture a small city refusing to build a new sewer or wastewater plant on the sole grounds that it will someday be used by members of the taxpaying public. Envision, if you will, a school district adamantly insisting that it cannot construct a new school because students will go to it, as it was intended. Those public officials would be laughed out of the room, at the very least, and more likely forcefully removed from office, for good reason.

Somehow, this concept of induced demand doesn’t apply when it comes to these billion-dollar light rail boondoggles. How is it not induced demand if you’re spending huge piles of money on something in hopes that the public may someday use it? I suppose it’s because time has demonstrated relatively little demand for this service from the average person funding these projects.

At the end of the day, there are reasons people associate the personal automobile with freedom. Having a car enables you to come and go as you please. That mobility also makes it harder for other people to control your movements.

The transportation problems that plague this region are the result of generations of deliberate policy decisions that were based on attempted social engineering rather than consumer demand. They have failed and will continue to fail. Doing more of the same—refusing to build more roads or add capacity—is going to have the same exact results. I just wonder how much worse our traffic congestion will get before people start to realize that we’ve been sold a bill of goods.

Induced demand is absolute nonsense, and nothing more than a myth that is being proven wrong every day on our crowded highways, freeways and streets.

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.

The Freedom of Mobility

The thought of having to have a vaccine passport to conduct commerce and engage in voluntary transactions with other free individuals is understandably offensive to myself and countless people throughout this country and the world. This is largely because many of us recognize this for what it truly is—another attempt by power hungry elitists to control everything that everybody else does. And we’re pushing back accordingly.

We’ve always taken for granted the fact that we, as Americans, are essentially free to come and go as we please. That ability is based on the many rights included in this nation’s founding documents. And it’s a fairly easy concept to comprehend—where I travel, as a law-abiding private citizen, is none of anybody’s business, and especially not that of the government.

However, there has been a massive push to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to institute the kinds of heavy-handed measures that Americans would otherwise reject outright.

There’s a popular misconception out there that the rights we’re granted as Americans are somehow derived from the government. It’s simply not true. Because if our rights come from the government, a sudden change in policy could then mean that those rights no longer exist or can be taken away.

Our rights are inherent, meaning that they are an automatic given. Each and every one of us is born free. The purpose of the United States government, as spelled out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, is to uphold, protect and defend those rights.

Those rights exist, even in times of the most dire of emergencies. They can’t be suspended. They can’t be transferred from one group of citizens to another. Most importantly, they can’t be ignored in favor of mandates that have never had the full and legitimate force of law to back them up or justify them.

This pandemic has been going on for over a year and a half now. The average person has spent this whole time trying to keep themselves and their families safe while trying to continue making a livelihood and keeping the bills paid.

The vast majority of Americans and people anywhere on Earth have not had COVID. Of the ones that have had it, the vast majority got sick for a while, but managed to recover and survive.

From the very beginning of all of this, we’ve been introduced to ideas like contact tracing, in the name of preserving public health and combating the virus. The general public even briefly tolerated the temporary closures of many industries and sectors of the economy because we were told we needed to flatten the curve.

But it’s now impossible to ignore the fact that there are larger forces and agendas at work here. Lines have been crossed, and people have grown increasingly, and understandably, weary of these mandates and orders coming in from on high.

I will continue to fiercely oppose even the suggestion that vaccine passports be implemented as a condition of allowing people to live, exist, work, engage in trade and move about as they see fit. Because even though our rights are a given and should be thought of that way, politicians can decide, on a whim, to stop recognizing them. And once that happens, it becomes very difficult to get them back.

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.

The Tide is Turning

At the beginning of the year, things were admittedly looking bleak. The coronavirus pandemic raged on with no end in sight, prompting many in authority to impose open-ended restrictions and mandates on the rest of us. There was violence and unrest in the streets, especially in Portland, where rioters were allowed to destroy the downtown area for literally months on end without consequence.

It was obvious to some of us that these series of crises were going to be used as an excuse for some to make unprecedented power grabs. Anyone who dared to speak up against any of it was destined to be made an example of.

That ended up including me. I stated publicly that I wanted to have family members over for Thanksgiving. This resulted in me receiving multiple threats from strangers accusing me of wanting to kill people.

However, recent developments are proving what I’ve maintained all along—our systems can work as they are intended and people who stand up for their rights can ultimately win, if they’re willing to keep on fighting.  

The recent Virginia governor’s race saw Terry McAuliffe defeated. A key contributing factor was a statement he made during a debate that what state schools teach peoples’ children is none of their business. Outraged suburban soccer moms flocked to the polls to bounce McAuliffe’s party from office. It suffered multiple other losses that night, including the lieutenant governor’s and attorney general’s offices, as well as its majority in the House of Delegates.

Voters sent a very clear message that a line had been crossed. Their elected leaders overreached and paid dearly through being voted out of office across the board. A sleeping giant was awakened. The people took their power back.

McAuliffe isn’t the only unpopular governor these days. After a year and a half of top-down rule, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the entire United States. Fortunately for her, she’s term limited and cannot run for her position again. Because all indications are that she would lose if she did.

Similarly, President Biden’s approval rating is also in freefall, less than a year after he took office. His vaccine mandates on private employers have been legally challenged, and their constitutionality will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As 2021 draws to a close, just know that you are not alone. But also be aware that the people who spent the last year trying to strip you of your rights and freedoms are not going to stop any time soon, or ever. You are not without recourse, though, and it is possible to fight back and win.

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.