A Thorny Rose
Winston Churchill was wrong when he said, “Democracy is the worst
form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”
Maybe democracy is fatally flawed, especially when democracy is attached
to its essential partner, capitalism. At least, that’s what a couple
of hundred thousand progressive, anti-corporate transplants in Multnomah
County would have you believe. That’s what their leader Erik Sten
would have you believe.
The results of a
decade of anti-corporate policies in downtown Portland are in, and of
course, they’re not pretty. In 1990, a business survey reported
110,000 jobs in the city’s financial westside core, the heart of
downtown. In 2004, the Portland Business Alliance survey found 82,497
jobs in downtown Portland, a loss of almost 30,000. A loss of 30 percent
of the jobs in the city’s downtown core is huge. Big numbers. A
depression. And remember that during most of those years—the 90s—the
metropolitan area, the region and the nation were thriving.
Karl Marx wrote in
the 19th century, “History repeats itself the first time as tragedy,
then second as farce.” The tragedy (under Katz) was the loss of
jobs from 1990-2004; the farce (under Potter) is the city leadership’s
current response to the economic crisis. The place has become a cartoon.
In May, the Oregonian’s
front page headline and accompanying photos sensationally juxtaposed Columbia
Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle and Portland Mayor Tom Potter, with the CEO telling
the politician to “fix the city.” Above and below the fold
were these two stories: Commissioner Randy Leonard taxing cell phones,
and city council unanimously voting to make all elections publically funded.
Only days earlier,
the Oregonian reported, in a poll conducted by Tim Hibbitts, that Tom
Potter’s approval rating neared 70 percent. And that 70 percent
approval rating is exactly the problem.
What ails Portland,
when you add up the votes, is nothing more or less than this: 200,000
transplants, backed up by willing native accomplices, who have moved here
to try to turn an area of 2.3 million people into an experiment that until
recently has only been attempted in towns the size of Eugene, Ore., or
Jackson Hole, Wyoming—towns one-tenth the size of the Portland/Vancouver
How is the experiment
working? So far, so good. Because, in military terms, the no-growthers,
the latte leftists, are in control of the key real estate, the region’s
center (Multnomah Country), the high ground, something military generals,
especially Civil War generals knew to be critical. Control the center,
and it is difficult to counterattack.
So can a mere 200,000
or so voters who want to opt out of the world economy really deny the
interests of a vibrant area of 2.3 million? No. But Multnomah County isn’t
just a thorn in the side of those dwindling business owners who still
remain there. It’s also become a metropolitan problem, a regional
problem, and a federal problem, which means our leaders, both in government
and in business, are beginning to think creatively about how to prune
back the Rose City and its surrounding county.
is a federal problem because it concerns President Bush. By a vote of
4 –1 the city council voted in April to pull out of the Joint Terrorism
Task Force. The problem deepened when the city council vote threatened
the closely cultivated relationship between the President and Oregon’s
Jr. Senator, Gordon Smith. Smith met privately with Mayor Potter on a
recent Portland Business Alliance trip to Washington DC about his council’s
recent “stunt” and to explain to Potter how cooperative or
uncooperative the Bush administration might be in future dealings with
Portland. Votes have consequences.
is also a regional problem. It’s fast becoming a problem for Washington
state governor Christine Gregoire. Washington state, home to 10 Fortune
500 companies, is ranked 11th in the nation in per capita income (Oregon
36th) and annually exports $34 billion dollars worth of goods (Oregon
$11 billion). Washington state is committed to the global economy and
committed to providing the infrastructure needed for a newly vibrant region
of their state, Clark County. In the last 10 years the population of Clark
County has risen from 250,000 residents to 400,000. More than half the
increase in population has come from the Portland area, and many of those
who moved possess high incomes and personal wealth.
The vibrancy of southwest
Washington is directly on the radar of Washington officials. And despite
the fact that Gregoire took office and remains in office under the most
unusual circumstances, she still found time to express the bottom line
vision of her state—that Washington remain in the forefront of the
it simply when she endorsed Washington State University Vancouver as one
of the state’s newest four-year universities. “Washington
citizens must have the educational opportunities they need to compete
for good jobs that Washington’s economy has created. The expansion
of the WSU and UW schools in Clark and Pierce counties responds to regional
workforce needs and contributes to the state’s economic vitality
by preparing highly educated, well-trained workers.”
Word from Olympia
is that Washington state leaders are not about to have the fastest growing
area of their dynamic state not served by adequate infrastructure—and
that goes beyond higher education. Gov. Gregoire and Washington leaders
want to build a third bridge, potentially a toll road, across the Columbia
River to serve the growing thousands of commuters who live in Washington
but still commute to Oregon for work. Washington’s leaders are concerned
about speed, about moving their residents from “home to work”
and “work to home,” about keeping up with the rhythm of the
Oregon leaders, however,
led by Multnomah County’s Cong. Earl Blumenauer, responded to the
Evergreen state’s ambitions. Their answer: No. Their solution instead
is to remodel the Interstate Bridge, and, of course, include a light rail
lane, a bike lane, a dog lane, and a fern lane.
We jest about the
fern lane, …okay, and the dog lane, but barely.
to Washington’s vision was what you might expect from residents
who don’t want to be part of the global economy, who are content
living in a state with only one Fortune 500 company. As usual, Oregon’s
governor, Ted Kulongoski, remains cowed by the no-growth Multnomah County
mob. But stay tuned, because the fight over “crossing” the
river will dramatize, in a way that maybe no other debate has done to
date, the differing ambitions of the “globalists” vs. the
“no-growthers.” Sadly for Oregonians, on this the 200th anniversary
of the “Lewis and Clark” expedition, it is Washington state
that owns the expansive vision closer to Jefferson and Lewis.
Here in Oregon, Multnomah
County is especially a thorn in the side of its neighbor counties, Washington,
Clackamas, Yamhill, Columbia, and Hood River. Problems multiply when the
Portland City Council attempts to buy Portland General Electric, expanding
both its charter and its debt obligations, or when leaders continue to
aggressively pursue a failed multi-billion dollar light rail experiment.
Governor Gregoire is thinking speed. Portland and county leaders are thinking
“quality-of-life.” Some quality. Some life.
lingers. Can 200,000 transplanted radical “no-growthers” in
Multnomah County convert a vibrant region of 2.3 million people to their
way of life? The answer (assuming Churchill was right) is no. Market economies
are too intelligent to put up with the nonsense that is Multnomah Country
forever. Somehow, someway, they will be dislodged; the gooey center will
not hold. Real world trumps fantasy world.
BrainstormNW - June 2005