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.

He said, “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, but he wasn’t threatening me or my fellow county commissioners. He was threatening the taxpayers, the voters who put us there and who did so in great part because of our opposition to further expansion of light rail into Clackamas County.

Now, it isn’t really important who “he” is. He is a citizen, anybody and nobody in particular. He has every right to express himself. What’s important is that he clearly was speaking for those “stakeholders” he described and he captured their attitude all too well.

He added, “If Clackamas County adopts this resolution and the project fails, it is reasonable to expect political retaliation ...”

No wonder voters are disgusted with government. They are the only real stakeholders. Yet when they attempt to have their voices heard, they are threatened with reprisals and retaliation.

So what stake do Clackamas County voters and taxpayers have in the Columbia River Crossing? First, the mostly I-5-based project will divert transportation funding from critical projects in our county. Second, the project could be built without light rail (which Clark County voters reject as well) for a fraction of the cost. Third, the tolls required at the new I-5 bridge will directly impact Clackamas County residents due to the obvious increased congestion that will flow onto I-205, where tolls cannot be charged.

This testimony did one thing: It clearly defined how too many people serving in political office in Oregon think government should work — ODOT, the Legislature, the governor, the federal government — these people decide everything and negotiate nothing.

Voters? Sure, you can cast your ballots, but don’t expect to actually decide anything. Keep your mouths shut and leave that to the big shots in Portland and in Salem. Taxpayers? You hear about their grand plans; you’re just not in them, except as a funding source. Go along quietly, or else ...

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 in the adult world.

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?

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

John Ludlow is the current chair of the Clackamas County Commission and the former mayor of Wilsonville.

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