Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Haven't We Had Enough Nothing?

My campaign for Benton County Commissioner is focused on creating accountable local government that plans for - and budgets for - the wellbeing of future generations.
This will be accomplished by: 
PROTECTING RENTERS
ADDRESSING INCOME INEQUALITY
FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE LOCALLY
SEEKING OUT COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
and INCREASING OVERSIGHT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
For more information, please visit: https://www.mania4benton.org/
 
Last night was a candidate's forum hosted by the Economic Vitality Partnership. That's a group made up of representatives from the school district, the Chamber of Commerce, OSU, Benton County, the Downtown Corvallis Association, etc. They invited the candidates for Corvallis Mayor, Corvallis City Council, and Benton County Commissioner to come and introduce themselves, and then answer questions related to "economic vitality" or "economic development."
 
Two of the candidates for Mayor went first, followed by candidates from contested City Council races, then, to finish, the County Commissioner candidates. The City Council candidates appeared in order of their ward number, while the Commissioner candidates went alphabetically, which meant I was the very last candidate to step up for questioning.
 
The EVP members had stuck to their message all evening, with all the questions in some way or another having to do with local economic conditions. But when the floor was opened for questions for me, that focus went out the window.
 
In my (brief) introduction, I had mentioned that I am the only candidate who has held municipal public office, worked on municipal budgets and worked on economic development projects like ones that had been discussed all evening. I also included the fact that I have been endorsed by the two local groups affiliated with Bernie Sanders, as well as by the SEIU 503. Skipping right past any questions about economic anything, sitting County Commissioner Anne Schuster jumped right in with this: "The SEIU isn't the union that represents the county, so I don't see how that helps your campaign."
 
Please note, that's not really a question, and it has nothing to do with economic development. In any case, I responded along the lines of, "Well, there are still a great many SEIU members here (in Benton County) who can vote, and I'm not quite sure what point you're trying to get at here."
 
She followed up with: "Well, what about the union that represents county workers?" At least that was a question, but it still had nothing to do with economic issues locally. I informed Commissioner Schuster that the local AFSCME chapter had held a candidate's forum, but that they were not going to be doing an endorsement in this race.
 
At this point, the allotted time for candidates to be questioned was just about up. Did any other EVP member have a question about economic issues? Well, Anne Schuster jumped in again, and asked me if I knew about Benton County's 2040 "visioning" efforts. Needless to say, I informed her that I am very well aware of those efforts - and followed up by saying that they illustrated one of my concerns about how such processes play out locally. I noted that Benton County and Corvallis both carried out essentially identical 2040 "visioning" projects, and said that I would have preferred that they had not duplicated those efforts, and instead had collaborated, because collaboration is always the most productive route to follow, the surest path to success.
 
Schuster replied: "Well, just so you know, Penny York (Corvallis City Councilor) and I did talk about working together on those processes...But nothing came of it."
 

But nothing came of it. That about sums it up. We need leaders who won't settle for nothing coming of their time and efforts. We need leaders who won't take raise after raise with no accomplishments to justify them. We need leaders who are focused and accountable and working every day to ensure that something comes of it for the people of Benton County. That's the kind of leader I will be if elected. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Local Voices Rise - Another Endorsement

Another day, and another endorsement from a local group affiliated with Bernie Sanders. This endorsement comes from Our Revolution Corvallis Allies (ORCA), a group composed of hundreds of progressive local residents (and Democrats) who are hungry for change, and supportive of a candidate who can advance a strong, progressive agenda. Thank you, ORCA! I will continue to work hard, work county-wide, and do everything I can to win this important local race.

At this point, it's obvious this is a two person race - it's going to be either Pat Malone, or me. So let's look at a few key differences between us...

 
First and foremost, I show up - Pat does not. The County Commissioner forum earlier this week was hosted by two groups with ties to the Democratic Party - yet Pat couldn't be bothered to attend. I certainly did. That's my job as a candidate, to be available, to answer questions, to be accountable. I don't care who is hosting a candidate's forum - if they're having one, it's my job to be there. Pat, on the other hand, apparently thinks he's above all that, and doesn't have to answer to anyone. That's not the way a true public servant thinks.
 
 
Pat also has the backing (tepid though it seems to be) of the local Democratic Party. That means a certain level of party "branding" will be in effect, and that he will receive some sort of logistical and/or financial support. Of course, Pat's willingness to spend big is what really helped put him over the top in the primary - he simply outspent the other viable candidates greatly. That worked in the primary, but, in the general election, with a different dynamic and increased voter interest, that sort of simplistic approach will be harder to pull off successfully.

So Pat is willing to spend big, but I'm focusing on spending smart. Case in point: The amount we've spent on campaign t-shirts is roughly equal to what two smallish ads in the Gazette-Times would cost. But, unlike a here-today-gone-tomorrow newspaper ad, these t-shirts are walking billboards - and those billboards will be walking around for months. And as they move around our community they're worn by people who are motivated to engage and act as ambassadors for my campaign. We've got dozens of people with these shirts, and I think it's a very effective way to keep this campaign out there in the public eye.

 
Pat is going to talk about his endorsements - but they're mainly from people (Peter DeFazio) and groups (OLCV) that aren't from here, and have no vested interest in our community. The endorsements I am receiving are coming from local groups, made up of local people. Those local voices count a lot more in a local election than outsiders.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I just simply have more experience than Pat with municipal governing and budgeting. With that experience, I will be able to hit the ground running to advance a progressive agenda.

And that leads to the metaphor I like to use to sum this race up: Pat is clearly the entitled, disconnected house on the hill candidate. But I am the boots on the ground candidate. I'm running for this position to get things done, to address major issues here (income inequality, housing, climate change, etc.) that have been ignored for too long, and to make our county government more open and equitable for all county residents. In that quest, I ask you join all your local friends and neighbors in supporting my campaign.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Company I Keep - An Endorsement

I am extremely pleased and honored to announce that I have received the endorsement of the Benton County Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Or, as you most likely think of them, the political party of Senator Bernie Sanders. This is an association I am happy and honored to have.

 
If you've been following national news at all, then you already know that DSA-backed candidates have been making waves, making the news, and making strides towards getting elected and making our government more representative of the people it is supposed to serve. This too is an association I am happy to have.

 
What does the Benton County DSA stand for? Here are a few important statements from their Points of Unity, starting with one that embodies what my campaign for Benton County Commissioner is all about: The Benton County DSA rejects sectarianism and believe that a unified left is more necessary than ever.

Another Point of Unity: The Benton County DSA hopes to achieve a more sustainable society. We recognize that capitalism is inherently opposed to environmentalism, and that the profit motive furthers exploitation of natural resources. We believe sustainability cannot be attained in a society driven by a desire for endless growth.

And another: The Benton County DSA fights for liberation from all oppression, including racism, sexism, ableism, discrimination against queer and transgender people, and discrimination based on gender identity or expression, religion, caste, citizenship or place of birth.

 
These are principles and goals I wholeheartedly believe in. If you believe in them as well, I welcome you to join my campaign for Benton County Commissioner, and help make meaningful, progressive change on the local level a reality. It can be done, and it will be done. With your help, with your participation, we can make Benton County a place that truly lives up to its potential, and its ideals.



Wednesday, August 29, 2018

90% of Life - and Elections - is Showing Up

In a real sense, the big takeaways from last night's candidate forum (hosted by Our Revolution Corvallis Allies and the local DSA chapter) were things that didn't happen, with the first and foremost being the fact that Pat Malone, the Democratic candidate, simply didn't show up. I still can't quite believe he did that.

By refusing to show up, Pat leaves voters with only negative lenses through which to view that decision. Was he afraid to show up? Dismissive of voters? Just plain lazy? I find it hard to conceive of a reason that doesn't reflect poorly on Pat. When you're a candidate, it's your job to be available and answer people's questions. If you're not going to be responsive to voters when you're a candidate, it's very difficult to believe you'll be responsive as an elected official. The arrogance and disrespect for both voters and the process that this decision shows is really quite stunning.

On a similar note, it was extremely disappointing to see Sami Al-Abdrabbuh also disrespecting the process and misleading those in attendance. Just by looking back through the entries on this blog, you can see that I've been out in the community, going to meetings, listening to people's concerns, gathering information, and proactively working on this campaign for nearly a year. Sami impulsively jumped into this race less than two weeks ago, but last night he kept speaking as though he'd been out there on the campaign trail for months and months. It was a shockingly cynical and deceptive approach to take, and says more about his character than he probably intended.

There are no shortcuts to public service. There's nothing noble about deception. And the process, imperfect though it may be, does matter, as does treating voters with honesty and respect. These are values I believe in, and try my best to abide by. That's why I have run my campaign the way I have, and embrace transparency and constantly seek feedback. I'm running for this position because I know it's important - and that important tasks have gone unattended to for too long. I want to change that, I want to be a good public servant and a catalyst for positive change.

I won't lie to you. Last night, I was a little off my game, and I wish I had done a little better at conveying some parts of my platform. But I take some comfort in knowing that, off night or not, at least the people who attended know I'll show up for them, and that I won't try to bluff my way into office. I've put my positions out publically, in writing, for months and months. I've given this task the time it requires, and I trust voters can see the work I've put in, and the care that I've given to running an informed and impassioned campaign. Public service is integral to who I am, and I think that in the end, that cold, hard fact counts a lot more than all the hot air in the world.

Thanks to everyone who turned out last night - including the candidates who took the time to show up. And a special thank you to all the volunteers on my campaign who showed up in their campaign t-shirts last night! You were a hard-to-miss presence in the crowd.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Follow the Money, Swallow Your Pride

From the Overpriced and Underperforming Department: Our three Benton County Commissioners have just gotten a 2% raise. Yes indeed, because they weren't being overpaid quite enough, apparently. You can read all the details here.

Think about this: The primary duty of the County Commissioners is to help create and approve the budget. It's the budget that funds and drives everything Benton County does. Currently, Benton County does their budget every two years. That means the County Commissioners key responsibility only comes before them every other year.

Ah, but they get paid for every year, of course. Even prior to this pay raise, collectively the commissioners get paid nearly $300,000 every year. But, as noted above, they only have to do the budget every other year.

And think about this: Long-term County Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo will have been paid close to $2,000,000 - that's two million dollars - over the course of her five terms. In my opinion, that's both too much, and just too long for one person to be holding that seat.

Holding a public office like County Commissioner should be public service. That should be the focus. And, yes, I believe that people do need to be paid for doing that job. (It's crazy that, for instance, Corvallis City Councilmembers are not paid anything.) But it should not be a job that makes you rich. It should not be a job that rewards people with ever higher salaries simply for sitting there for year after year and term after term.

I also think it's outrageous that these three have just gotten a 2% raise, given that the Commissioners just got a 5.65% raise in 2015, which immediately followed a raise of 6% in 2014! Think about that: Our County Commissioners essentially had their salaries raised 15% in the last four years.

Have we gotten our money's worth from them? Haven't they presided over the (sadly appropriate) growth in income inequality here? Haven't they also just recently (also sadly appropriate) tried to pull their funding from the winter weather homeless shelter? Haven't they also allowed a brutal and crushing housing crisis to grow and fester? Haven't they ignored the wishes of their own constituents and voted to join into the timber industry-led lawsuit against the state of Oregon? And couldn't that same lawsuit potentially bankrupt the state?

And on and on and on. Big money rules, and everything else is for fools, apparently. For too long being a Benton County Commissioner has meant that you just follow the money, and swallow your pride.

No more!

When I am elected, I will be a vocal advocate for cutting those salaries in half. Doing so would free up enough money to hire another staff member or two - staff members who could actually perform vital duties that would serve the public. We need more public service, and less service of Commissioner's bank accounts. If our commissioners can't struggle along on just $43-45,000 a year, well gee, that might just give them some valuable insights into how other members of the community are also struggling.

I would also propose tying any raises or changes in salary to the median income in Benton County. If the median income goes up, maybe - maybe - the County Commissioners would be eligible for a raise. That might give them some motivation to, you know, actually care about what goes on in the county that (over)pays them.

This is shameful, folks, and these three are shameless if they accept those raises. It's that simple. Too many people are struggling here, and our County Commissioners currently have no skin in the game at all. They are checked out and overpaid. And that all needs to change.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Radical Empathy and Civic Courage

From a column by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times:

Democrats will not defeat Trump and his increasingly fanatical, revanchist party by promising the restoration of what came before him; the country is desperate for a vision of something better. Whether or not you share that vision, if you truly believe that Trump is a threat to democracy, you should welcome politics that inspire people to come to democracy's rescue.

As an unaffiliated candidate for public office, one who is offering a "vision of something better" than the income inequality, housing crisis and defunding of social services that we've seen locally, you could say the paragraph above speaks to me, and for me. We not only can do better, we must do better. So much depends on it. And those of us on the left must do better at offering a compelling vision of our shared future, while everyone along the entire political spectrum must commit to courtesy, conversation and compromise with the goal of getting things done for our community, and for our country.

This all speaks directly to the ideas central to my campaign: Radical empathy and civic courage. Radical empathy means making every effort to truly understand the perspective of those with whom you disagree, in the interest of fostering communication and the resolution of shared problems. You could say that, in effect, it simply means being an active listener. Civic courage means having the courage to speak honestly about shared problems, and their causes and effects, and then finding a course of action to address those problems. It also means being able to shoulder responsibility. So, for example, Republicans who voted for Trump must own up to their support for an unrepentant racist and all that that entails. Or, locally, that Democrats must admit to their ownership of the income inequality and housing crisis that occurred on their watch and all that that entails. This is not intended to assign blame and cast aspersions; it is intended to foster honesty and critical thinking. In other words: Listen, take responsibility, and take action.

So often, the solutions to problems are right in front of us - but are obscured by the distorting lens of partisanship and tribalism. Climate change is a great example. A majority of people along the political spectrum believe climate change is happening. It's a global threat, which means we are all affected by it. That being the case, we all need to be invested in addressing it. But when solutions are brought to the table, well, usually the table just gets tipped over due to the turbulence caused by our hyper-partisan culture.

Ah, but guess what? Most of us already agree on solutions - but get our responses scrambled due to the ingrained partisanship in our culture. Democrats widely and wildly agree with solutions to climate change - that are proposed by Democrats. Republicans are onboard with solutions to climate change, too - if they're proposed by Republicans. And then progress comes to a grinding halt - and the world suffers because of it. (For a fascinating article on the partisan barriers to addressing climate change, please click here.)

Let's be clear though: The word "solution" isn't spelled with an "R" or a "D." It's just a solution. I have personal and professional experience, in the role of an elected official, working with people all along the political spectrum to find solutions to environmental problems - solutions that everyone could buy in to. It can be done, and it must be done.

We must do this not because there is "too much" at stake. We must do this because everything is at stake. Here in Benton County, I know we can do better. That's why I am running for this office: To break down barriers and get the work of the people done.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This is What I've Been Talking About

I'm running for Benton County Commissioner because there are things we need to be doing at that level of government that we aren't. I wholeheartedly believe that I am the best candidate for the job.

Case in point: The funding for the cold weather shelter - or should I say, the funding debacle for the cold weather shelter.

Let's do a quick recap of events, shall we? Benton County agreed to contribute $60,000 in funding for the upcoming winter season. It was a done deal. Then, behind the scenes, obviously something happened.

All of a sudden, Commissioner Anne Schuster was badmouthing the shelter via social media, and then, the Commissioners had a "public" meeting that was, to use the Gazette-Times' description of it, "under-the-radar." They put out a meeting agenda that didn't include the shelter funding as a topic, then, when everyone had left the meeting - when quite literally nobody was watching - all three Commissioners decided to pull the funding for the shelter.

News of that decision broke, and then all Hell broke loose as well. Anne Schuster was sent out on a mea culpa mission that went down in flames. On the ropes, the County Commissioners scheduled not one but two new public meetings to deal with this issue. At the first, they got an earful from the public, blasting them, and supporting the shelter. At the second, earlier today, with quite literally a room full of people watching, all three Commissioners (without explanation) reversed themselves and voted to go right back where this all started and give the shelter the $60,000.

A lot of people had to do a lot of work to get those three right back where they started - which was the right place to be for a number of reasons. So, please focus in on this: Whether or not you agree with the shelter funding, and whether or not you agree with the initial decision to pull the funding that started this whole mess, the fact remains that the process was bad. Deceptive agendas, secret meetings and broken promises are not the means to use to achieve a good end. When the process is poisoned, all decisions coming out of it are suspect - even those you might agree with.

So why am I the best candidate for the job? Because I will do the right thing regardless of whether or not anyone is watching. That means the right thing for the community, and the right thing in terms of using an open and honest policy-making process. What's more, even though I will do the right thing regardless of whether or not anyone is watching, I will also be a tireless advocate for getting more people watching. Government needs oversight and feedback. As today's vote proved, it operates best with those two ingredients in the mix. Our county government has operated for too long with too little oversight. That needs to change.

Another reason I'm the best candidate for the job? I mean aside from my experience and passion and creativity, I'm also the candidate who shows up, who tracks these things and watches what goes on. Today, like so many other County Commissioner meetings, I was the only candidate for that office there.