“Stunned” would probably be the best word to describe how one citizen’s testimony hit me, as I presided over a recent Clackamas County Commission meeting. Here is what he had to say about our vote on a resolution to oppose the current Columbia River Crossing plan, which includes light rail, and will be financed in part by tolls on the new $10 billion total project:

“Opposing a project where the stakeholders include the governor, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Legislature and the federal government will inevitably result in political consequences, in the form of being denied additional funding for surface transportation in Clackamas County.”

That sounded a lot like a threat, and he wasn’t threatening me or my colleagues on the county commission. He was threatening the taxpayers, the voters who put us there in great part because of our opposition to further expansion of light rail into Clackamas County.

What is important is that he made it clear that he was speaking for those “stakeholders” he described, and he captured their attitude all too well. He went on, “If Clackamas County adopts this resolution and the project fails, it is reasonable to expect political retaliation...”

Is that statement reasonable?

No wonder voters are disgusted with government. No wonder taxpayers throw up their hands in complete frustration. They are the only real stakeholders.

And yet when they attempt to have their voices heard, they are threatened with reprisals and retaliation. This is corruption and crony capitalism at its worst.

Finally, after nearly two decades of anti-light-rail votes, ballot measures and elections, the taxpayers have elected officials in Clackamas County who have promised to represent their interests at the table. And now those elected officials are being told to shut up or expect political retaliation.

This testimony did one thing: It clearly defined how too many people serving in political office in Oregon think government should work—ODOT, TriMet, the legislature, the governor, the federal government—these people decide everything and negotiate nothing. They believe they are the only stakeholders.

Voters? Sure, you can cast your ballots, but don’t expect to actually decide anything. You have no seat at the table when real decisions are being made. Keep your mouths shut and leave that to the big shots in Portland and Salem. Taxpayers? You know all about their grand plans; you’re just not in them, except as a funding source. Don’t bother asking to renegotiate anything. Go along quietly, or else...

Well, in Clackamas County we will not be bullied. We have a responsibility to represent the views of taxpayers and voters. We teach our children to stand up against bullying; let’s show them what that looks like, what political courage looks like.

Will the bridge be built despite our objections? Will TriMet build light rail into the county despite our recent request to look for ways to renegotiate (a request that was met with threats of lawsuits)?

As important as the answers to those questions are, the point is that state and local government are in deep trouble, maybe even in crisis, if elected representatives can’t ask those questions without being threatened and bullied.

John Ludlow is chairman of the Clackamas County Commission.

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