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County's record benefits a few, but fails too many

The reasons cited by the News-Times editorial board (“Keep Duyck and Terry on the county commission,” News-Times, May 7 issue) for endorsing Chairman Andy Duyck and County Commissioner Bob Terry is, since the economy in the county is good, why make a change? 

This blanket claim about the economy begs the question — whose economy? If one is talking about Intel and Nike, I get it. If one is talking about the working poor, it’s not true.

While Duyck and Terry have been good for big-box traded sector firms and for development interests, they have done little to help small businesses or farmers, unless one considers the “trickle down” theory of economics a valid theory, which it is not. And the tax shifting which protects Intel and Nike pushes the tax burden to the rest of us.

But most significantly, Chairman Duyck taking over command of the county from Tom Brian helped create the urban/rural reserves fiasco that required the intervention of the Court of Appeals and the Legislature to fix the mess through the so-called “grand bargain.” If this counts for success, then what is failure?

While unemployment in Washington County is lower, 6.1 percent, this averaged data point disguises the fact that many residents of Washington County live in or on the edges of poverty, are at risk of being homeless and can’t compete for high wage jobs at firms such as Intel or Nike. They instead get the low wage jobs, at best.

There are two Washington counties, just like there are two Oregons. One is affluent and doing well, the other is struggling to keep above water and at risk of losing a job, facing a major medical emergency or triaging daily necessities of life.

Our education system in Oregon illustrates the economic divide in Washington County and Oregon. Despite more than 30 years of education reform, we still have an achievement gap that discriminates against kids born on the wrong side of the tracks. With a dropout rate of 20 percent, what economy are they going to fall into?

Such kids, when they enter the job market, will never be able to compete for the top jobs in our traded sector firms but will be relegated to entry level jobs in the service industry in America’s and Oregon’s hidden economy of the working poor. The Duyck/Terry economic pandering strategy to high-tech industry will not close this gap, it makes it worse!

The Duyck/Terry strategy will leave us mired in the two-economy dichotomy. Instead, we need to adopt a “smart growth strategy” by creating public/private partnership apprentice programs; helping small to medium sized businesses; fully funding our public schools; and creating a robust social safety net which goes beyond Band-Aids.

Until the “good old boys” are put out to pasture, nothing will change. Let me use an example close to my heart — ending homelessness. We’ve come a long way in Washington County, but minus a serious commitment to this issue from Salem, we will not achieve our goal of ending chronic homelessness but will just nibble around the edges.

Why? Because we don’t have the building capacity (rental units) to move the homeless into safe places to live. We get $2.7 million from the federal government per year to help the homeless, but only get $200,000 from the county, a pittance that won’t even purchase an acre of land for adding to our housing stock.

Funding subsidized housing is another challenge. One hundred percent comes from the federal government, and none from Washington County. This is why with an unmet need of 19,000 units of affordable housing in 2010, at the current rate of construction it will take us 160 years to get there! This is not a measure of success, it is proof of failed leadership — a moral blindness to the lives of the invisible poor who live and work in Washington County. 

“When all is said and done, more is said than done” — that’s the Duyck/Terry record. This is why I’m voting for Elizabeth Furse and Allen Amabisca.

Russ Dondero is a professor, blogger and citizen activist. He lives in Forest Grove.



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