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Clackamas County voters want more rail elections

A measure on the Clackamas County ballot to require elections before funding can go to public rail systems passed by about a 60 percent margin on Tuesday, according to early returns. More than a third of the county’s registered voters turned out for the Sept. 18 special election.

On the Friday before the election, Clackamas County officials funded a $19.9 million payment to the Portland-Milwaukie light-rail project through a 20-year Bank of America loan at 2.74 percent interest. The county says that the measure will have no effect on its TriMet payment agreed by a 3-1 vote of commissioners on Aug. 22. Although the Oregon Supreme Court on Sept. 12 dismissed a restraining order on the payment, petitioners for Measure 3-401 plan to leverage the election results to overturn the TriMet agreement.

“This is a clear mandate that the people wanted a right to vote and the commission went behind our backs,” said Jim Knapp, the Oak Grove resident who began the drive for Measure 3-401 and has begun gathering signatures for a referendum against the Aug. 22 decision. “The disrespect that Bank of America and the county commissioners who support this loan have shown for voters and taxpayers is simply breathtaking.”

Measure opponent Mike Swanson worried that rail “operations” votes required by the measure will trigger arguments about elections involving a wide range of county activities near rail lines.

“They wanted to catch the $20 million and what they’re going to do is catch all these little fish, and that’s the irony of this ballot measure,” Swanson said.

As part of Positively Clackamas, the political action committee formed to oppose the measure, Swanson led a press conference last week to present chief petitioners of Measure 3-401 a symbolic $125,000 bill on behalf of Clackamas County taxpayers.

Swanson, a former Clackamas County administrator (1986-95) and Milwaukie city manager (2000-10), argued that holding a single-issue, special-interest election is costly and should be used when there is no other way, especially when the county is struggling to meet its basic needs. Swanson said rail opponents could have waited less than two months until the general election, saving that $125,000 election cost for two police officers for an entire year, for example.

“I’ve been disturbed both nationally and locally about what the Tea Party has been doing to try to handcuff government,” Swanson said. “All this is going to do is require a whole lot of extra lawyers because there will be all sorts of questions that arise.”

Knapp said that the intent of the measure was clearly to give voters a say in rail project proposals. He added that petitioners wanted a vote as soon as possible so that they would have a chance to weigh in on the Milwaukie project.

“I didn’t trust the commissioners one bit to let us vote,” Knapp said. “We want a right to vote when it comes to big projects like this.”

September election timing is also propitious for public rail critics in Clackamas County who support a slate of candidates to unseat Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan and Commissioner Jamie Damon.

“This county commission is completely out of touch with the voters,” Knapp said. “We all look forward to November, when voters will put Tootie Smith and John Ludlow on the commission with Paul Savas, and the Clackamas County war on voters will be put to rest.”

As for the Tea Party, Knapp said a grassroots coalition of groups of all political parties came together to support the measure. Proponents accepted money from Nevada millionaire Loren Parks, he said, because they had to compete with opponents who accepted money from outside groups such as trade unions.

Swanson said that certain decisions such as public transportation are best left in the hands of elected officials who have the best interests of all their constituents at heart.

“If you read the Declaration of Independence you’ll see that the founders had respect for government as a solution to protect the rights of citizens to pursue happiness and prosperity,” Swanson said.

Knapp said that representative government “works fine as long as elected officials don’t have a tax-and-spend attitude.”




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