Originally published in February edition of The Northwest Connection –
Fiscal Conservatives Take Office Across Clackamas County –
Election 2012 was considered a disaster by Americans hoping to reverse the trend of unprecedented deficits, unaccountable spending, and runaway debt. But if you’d been living in a bunker since the 2010 midterm and stumbled into the daylight of Clackamas County on November 6, you might think things had gone the other way.
On January 7, the county turned a page in its history. The swearing-in of new Metro-bucking county chair John Ludlow and Position 4 commissioner Tootie Smith capped a years-long struggle by free-market, small-government activists and influential conservatives against what they saw as unaccountable local governance and unwelcome outsider influence on future policy for the county.
That same night the City of Damascus held a lower-profile swearing-in, at which time some new fiscally conservative faces took their places on the city council in this rural city beset by divisions and discord. Damascus has a population only just over 10,000, but insiders are already calling it “Ground Zero” for the next round of citizen-inspired opposition.
The following evening in Lake Oswego a new mayor, Kent Studebaker, and two new city councilors, Karen Bowerman and Skip O Neill were sworn in at City Hall. All are perceived to be fiscally and politically accountable from a conservative standpoint.
At the county seat ceremony at Red Soils Court in Oregon City, conducted by Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Suzie L. Norbie, Ludlow gave a reserved and unifying speech after taking the oath of office, calling for a commitment to honoring the “best and brightest” who will “make Clackamas County the best county in the state.”
“I want us to be a model, “said Ludlow, reaching out to county workers, asking them to share with him their “if onlys.”
Tootie Smith’s speechifying played more to the political and ideological divisions which have roiled the county—specifically centered on land use, transportation policy, and taxation creep. “Your voice is powerful and it will be heard,” Smith vowed, “and my voice is powerful and it will be heard.” Smith is the first conservative woman to be elected in the county.
In attendance at the SRO ceremony were Clackamas County Republican Chair John Lee (who at press time was seeking to become the statewide party chair), incumbent Positions 2 and 5 Commissioners Paul Savas and Jim Bernard, and Americans for Prosperity Clackamas Co-Chair Dale Seale. Newly elected Democratic Position 3 Commissioner Martha Schrader also took the oath of office.
Area conservatives ran effective countywide campaigns, strategically stowing their internecine squabbles. But all is not flowers and folk songs in this battleground county’s conservative enclaves.
Questions remain in the minds of some activists as to whether sitting moderate conservative Commissioner Savas will join with Ludlow and Smith to present a united front against what an apparent majority of county voters fear are tax-and-spend, crony-capitalist interests from outside the county.
The new conservative triumvirate was captured by an Oregonian photographer on the stage at the Monarch Hotel on election night, arms raised in solidarity. While Ludlow and Smith ran as hard-line alternatives to what they have termed “Portland Creep,” Savas’s first term was characterized by a more bipartisan, hands-across-the-aisle approach.
In Damascus the burning question of disincorporation, or, technically, surrender of charter, will come before voters next November. Resident Dan Phegley, a tax accountability advocate and spokesperson for the pre-Tea Party website Ask Damascus, affirms that such a disincorporation “would transfer all property both real and personal, valued in the millions, including any and all city-held cash, to the county.”
The city defeated a Metro-crafted comprehensive plan in 2011, and the road in and out of Damascus has gotten rockier ever since.
City voters elected new councilors Bill Wehr and Mel O’Brien in the recent election. In the minds of those who seek to forestall disincorporation and return to county control, they join beleaguered conservative Mayor Steve Spinnett in the quest to keep Damascus in control of its own destiny.
Phegley provides a run-down of the other councilors. “Newly-elected councilman Jim De Young “has come down in favor of no limits on city spending and opposes the requirement of voter approval on tax increases.” Of the incumbent councilors, Phegley characterizes Randy Shannon and Mary Westcott as “totally fiscally irresponsible,” and describes Andrew Jackman as someone who he hopes is amenable to a new emphasis on accountability.
Phegley: “If the city surrenders its charter the rejected Metro plan would return by default as the law of the land, along with a roughly 6 billion dollar price tag.”
In Lake Oswego, Citizens for Local Accountability in Lake Oswego has emerged as an important voice for fiscal responsibility in the affluent community. COLA board member David Berg explains the recent sea change in city government.
“Mayor Studebaker, Ms. Bowerman, and Mr. O’Neill were elected based on concerns over our debt going from 50 million to 157 million on the previous board’s watch.” Berg says that debt is expected to rise to as much as 300 million over the next three years because of commitments made by prior administrations.
Of the new council he says, “They may try and reverse these decisions, but may have no choice due to contracts signed by the previous two mayors.”
“Council focus should be on preserving community character and respect for citizens, says Berg. “This view of public service was entirely absent in the two previous administrations. That’s why they were voted out.”