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Q & A with Ted Wheeler, Portland Mayor
You came to the office of the mayor of Portland with a big reputation and success both as Multnomah County chair and as state treasurer. But this summer an Oregonian headline read, “Portland mayor says job is ‘no fun.’” Was the Oregonian headline accurate? Were you unprepared when you took office for the difficult challenges of being Portland mayor?
This is a very tough job, make no mistake about it. Your questions prove it.
I didn’t sign up for this job because it’s fun. That’s not why I do it. When I want fun, I go to Oaks Park with my daughter. I signed up for this job because the challenges we face as a community are large and complex and because I think I can make a meaningful impact solving them.
I’m responsible for creating more housing in the midst of a housing crisis; I’m responsible for getting people off the streets in the middle of a homelessness crisis; I’m responsible for fixing our roads after years of neglect and disinvestment. I’m responsible for guiding a policing bureau at the same time we’re having a national conversation about the changing nature of police work.
So while I readily admit this job isn’t always fun, I am always quick to say that the work is incredibly meaningful. It’s meaningful personally. It’s meaningful to those I serve as mayor. The challenges I face as mayor are nothing compared to the challenges faced by those trying to make ends meet, those trying to put their kids through school, those trying to run successful businesses.
People want a mayor who is engaged, who approaches the job with a sense of urgency, and who is willing to talk to anyone who wants to help – regardless of political party or ideology. That’s exactly how I try to lead.
On June 19, a mob of more than 100 protestors descended on the offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Southwest Portland.
You tweeted, “I drove by the demonstration yesterday. It seemed to be very peaceful and I was pleased to see that. I want to be very clear that I do not want the Portland Police to be engaged or sucked into a conflict, particularly from a federal agency that I believe is on the wrong track.”
In response, a Wall Street Journal headline read, “Anarchy Breaks Out in Portland with the Mayor’s Blessing.” The article emphasized your lack of action to protect federal workers from the mob, and noted Portland Police Deputy Chief Robert Day's denial of additional resources after a federal officer pleaded for help.
Looking back, do you regret your position favoring the mob over federal workers and local property owners, including food cart operator Julie Hakes of the Happy Camper, who was forced to shut down her business due to protestor threats? Did you place national political issues above local “law and order” issues?
When I drove past the demonstration, I didn’t see any mob. I saw families with kids, I saw faith leaders, I saw engaged citizens. People were standing around holding signs and exercising their First Amendment rights.
It is said that a lie travels around the globe by the time the truth can lace up its boots, and this is a perfect example. The owners of the Happy Camper listed their business for sale well before the demonstrations even started. And the WSJ“article” you cite is no article at all, but an opinion piece written by a man most famous for being fired from the student newspaper. Just this week, KGW investigated the claim that police refused to respond to emergency calls and officers did exactly what they were supposed to do. They responded to calls for help. There was never any policy to the contrary.
Our approach to the demonstration was based on protecting free speech and public safety. It was based on de-escalating tensions. It was based on jurisdictional responsibility. That’s a sensible approach from a law-enforcement perspective, and one I stand behind.
I have a role as mayor of this city that is different than my role as police commissioner – to speak about injustice, to give voice to our values as a community, and to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. I oppose, and I stand with those who opposed, the forced separation of parents from their children as the result of a misdemeanor. There may be hundreds of kids – innocent kids – permanently orphaned as a result of this inhumane policy. And while those factors do not impact my decisions about law enforcement, they deeply affect my conscience. I’m not going to be silent on this issue.
Last month, U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and David Perdue introduced a resolution on the Senate floor calling for you to immediately resign over the ICE incident. Their resolution stated, “A mob of left-wing activists recently surrounded an ICE office in southwest Portland, Oregon, trapping ICE employees inside the building.” The Senate resolution “calls on the mayor of Portland Oregon, Ted Wheeler, to immediately resign so that a leader committed to protecting all law abiding citizens and public servants can assume the duties of mayor of Portland.”
Sen. Cassidy’s statement read, "A politician deciding who gets help in an emergency based on politics is the kind of thing that happens in banana republics – not a democracy that ensures equal protection under the law."
Were Sens. Cassidy and Perdue justified in criticizing your unwillingness to protect the property rights of those with “politically incorrect” views? Or do you view criticism from southern Republican senators and President Trump as just good local politics? Have you been surprised by the depth of feeling stirred up in opposition to your handling of the ICE protests?
Ridiculous partisan virtue-signaling. Totally off base and lacking in fact. Cassidy and Perdue were trying to score points with their political base. I think their attempt flopped.
The thing is, I don’t view any of this in terms of political point-scoring. Maybe that’s because I’m unwilling to participate in the charade that wins these so-called points – division, misinformation, demagoguery. I’ll be the first to say that my political approach isn’t in favor right now. These times do not accommodate bipartisanship and collaboration. Pragmatism is a dirty word. I’ll continue to cast a broad net to attract allies. We agree about many of our challenges and I continue to believe we can agree on solutions.
Last November, Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle wrote about his concern over Portland’s growing homeless problem: “I love Portland. But as the chief executive officer of a company based here, I am concerned I may have made a mistake when we recently relocated one of our brand headquarters downtown. In fact, I am so concerned about the safety of our employees at the Sorel headquarters that we are taking the next 90 days to reevaluate our location decision.”
In July, Darryl Turner, the president of the Portland Police Association, said the city had become "a cesspool” and that police officers had become scapegoats for the mayor’s “failed policies” on homelessness.
What do you say to residents of Portland who are agitated about the homeless issue, believe every problem has a solution, and that you have abdicated leadership on the issue?
Tim Boyle and I share similar goals. We want Portland to be a city that attracts quality employers and a talented workforce. We want Portland to be safe and clean and livable. And when Tim had issues around his business, we spoke about them and addressed them together. Tim isn’t one to back away from the table. Neither am I. In fact, the man who many view as my chief critic on homelessness decided to belly up to the table and contribute $1.5 million of his own to help solve the problem. I commend him for his approach and for leading by example. We need more like him.
Not only do I provide leadership on homeless issues, I get results. Last year our shelters served 8,500 people. We found housing for 5,000 people who were living on the streets. We kept an additional 6,000 people in their homes. I recognize that while these are positive signs of progress, we still have a lot of work to do. This is an urgent issue, and we’re going to keep the pedal to the metal.
A Portland Tribune reader reacted to your disconnectedness with the anxiety most were feeling about the homeless situation and the deterioration of the atmosphere in downtown Portland: “Ted's feelings about the issue would be dramatically different if the 'campers' were fouling his own neighborhood with their droppings.”
Does your professional status and/or your financial status protect you from the anxiety many Portland area residents feel about thousands of homeless people camping in their city and in their front yards? Is there a growing disconnect between you and the voters?
I share the same concerns. I started in public life as a volunteer at my neighborhood homeless shelter. I sought this office in part because the city’s approach to homelessness at the time didn’t match the urgency. We had 400 people living on the Springwater Corridor. We didn’t have nearly enough shelter options. That’s all changed. There are no longer mass encampments in Portland. Since 2016, the number of people living on the streets, unsheltered, has actually decreased. Now, the challenge is doing more.
I have a deep connection with our city and our people. We share the same goals. We want a safe city, a vibrant city, a city with economic and educational opportunity. I live in one neighborhood. You’re not the first person to suggest that I can’t possibly understand what it’s like in the other 94. That’s why I spend so much time out in the community. I have conversations with real people every day about homelessness and crime and economic anxiety. That’s why I’m so driven to make a difference.
Last year, the Portland Mercury broke down a study by Multnomah County about its homeless residents. The study showed:
almost one-third of Portland’s homeless population were already homeless when they moved here.
the county had more than 4,000 homeless residents in 2017.
45 percent of the homeless were suffering from mental illness.
38 percent suffer from addiction issues.
What is the current number of homeless people on Portland streets in 2018? Has Portland been too eager to provide services that have attracted a large homeless population? If the homeless problem can only be solved on the national level, why doesn’t Vancouver, Washington, have a significant homeless population? Why don’t those suffering from mental illness and addiction get or use the services needed?
I’ve got news for you. Smaller cities have these problems too. This weekend I’m participating in a conference that includes cities from across our state. They’re all dealing with veterans living on the street. They’re all dealing with youth aging out of foster care. They’re all dealing with livability issues and economic issues and housing issues. This is no longer a big city problem. It’s a societal challenge.
It is a national issue. Local governments can’t solve the opioid crisis alone. Local governments cannot secure economic opportunity alone. Local governments can’t create a range of housing options alone. The big cities have resources to invest in solutions, and we’re investing more than ever to address these challenges. That’s our responsibility, and now I’m asking the federal government to step up to the table and do their part.
You were criticized this summer for saying to the Oregonian that "half of the arrests that police made in the last year were of homeless people.” Why were you criticized for a statement that is accurate, even axiomatic? Why did you have to defend yourself and the police department against charges of profiling the homeless? Is the City of Portland just too far left, too politically correct to govern?
People don’t want trespassing, open drug use, petty theft, trash on the streets. The police have to address these issues. However, the fundamental solutions to homelessness are not centered on law enforcement. The solutions to homelessness are housing, mental health and addiction treatment, and economic opportunity. The fact that police interact with those experiencing homelessness at such a high rate is not an indictment of law enforcement, but rather we can do much more to address the things that can prevent crime in the first place, like housing, education, jobs and treatment for mental health and addiction issues.
Affordable housing and homelessness were issues before you took office. You campaigned on a platform of dealing with, if not solving, these problems. However, many of the policies the city has put in place since you took office have made things worse. For example, in an interview in the NW Labor Press, you championed, and the council unanimously passed, an inclusionary housing ordinance. Yet, as predicted by opponents, that measure more or less put a halt to new multi-family projects. The city’s affordable housing bond has done little to add to the stock of affordable housing. On top of all that, the city’s renter relocation payment ordinance seems to be hastening the eviction of low income renters. Do you have any second thoughts about imposing these policies that actually worsen the shortage of affordable housing?
The information included in your question is simply incorrect.
After the implementation of inclusionary housing there have been more than 2,269 market rate units in projects subject to inclusionary housing that are in or through permitting. There are another potential 6,400 units in early assistance. It won’t be long until the number of units in process post-inclusionary housing outpace those in the pipeline prior to inclusionary housing. Now, we’re taking a good look at how the policy is performing, and we’ll make adjustments as necessary, but some of the more dramatic conclusions being drawn are simply premature.
Similarly, we are effectively investing the housing bond dollars approved by Portland voters. Proponents of the housing bond promised that 1,300 units of permanent affordable housing would be created at a variety of affordability levels within five to seven years. And, we are on track to accomplish that. As of today, in the first 18 months, we have nearly half of the units promised to voters in process, in both new developments and acquisitions of existing buildings – providing new housing opportunities and preventing displacement.
I want to be clear about our results. Annual production and permitting levels are higher than at any point in the last 15 years. In 2017, there were 14,000 units in the production pipeline, including permits. More than 600 affordable housing units came online in 2017 — more than double the number of units in the prior year.
And this year will be another record year. There are currently more than 700 newly affordable units under construction and slated to open in 2018. An additional 1,300 units are beginning construction and will open their doors in 2019. When it comes to producing affordable units, the city has never done better.
I recently tasked the Bureau of Development Services with the explicit goal of speeding up permitting and getting more housing built more quickly. This change has been met with support, and I’m optimistic we can make a real difference.
A recent Portland Business Alliance poll confirmed that traffic congestion and roads are top concerns for Portland area voters. Census data shows that Portland commute times have increased almost six percent since 2010. Over that same period, Portland’s road paving backlog has more than doubled to 2,800 lanes. Nevertheless, city policies such as road diets on Burnside, Division and Foster are making congestion worse on arterials; Neighborhood Greenways are forcing residents to find roundabout ways to drive to work; and Better Naito is a downtown driver’s nightmare. What are your plans to make life better for Portland’s motoring majority?
Years of disinvestment in basic maintenance left our streets in terrible condition. Since I took office, the city has taken dramatic steps to increase our focus on paving and maintenance of our roads. The projects underway as part of Fixing our Streets won’t completely meet the need, but they move us significantly in the right direction. Further, I championed a program called Build Portland that will invest $600 million over the next 20 years in our roads, parks and other civic infrastructure. And it will do so without additional taxes and without taking money from other programs. The first seven projects, totaling $50 million, have already been approved.
While we focus on improving our streets, we also have to improve the experience for those taking transit, biking and walking. More than 100 people move to Portland every day. We will never build enough roads for everyone. Cities around the globe, including Portland, recognize that the future is one that is less dependent on single occupancy vehicles. That’s why we’re not just engaged in dozens of conversations about the future of transportation and urban planning, we’re leading those conversations.
A recent audit found that 80 percent of Airbnb rentals in Portland are operating illegally. Another audit found that half of the residents who receive Clean Rivers Rewards discounts on their sewer bills are not in compliance. One in four Portlanders are dodging the Arts Tax. So many residents don’t sort their recycling that China refuses to buy our plastic and paper scraps. Many businesses in the city don’t pay their business income taxes, including businesses owned by City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty. Is Portland a city of scofflaws? Are we so overregulated and overtaxed that it’s impossible to follow and enforce all the laws we have on our books?
Not at all. Portland is a place like many others, where people want to work hard and play by the rules. It’s up to government to enforce those rules. We can do better. We need to be much tougher on illegal Airbnbs. We need to make it easier for people to recycle and dispose of food waste. We need to find ways to make sure our arts investments are administered more effectively. I’ll be judged by our results in these areas, and I’m okay with that.
Knute Buehler Endorsement
Oregon voters finally have their chance to vote for a qualified, moderate, unifying candidate – Buehler is that candidate
In early September, a Willamette Week headline read, “Why Is Nike Co-founder Phil Knight Backing Both Colin Kaepernick and Republican Nominee for Governor Knute Buehler? Why the political divergence between Nike and its co-founder? And what really motivates Knight?”
WW’s Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, Nigel Jaquiss, thinks he knows what’s driving the schism and that he’s found the evidence. It’s a quote from Knight’s 2017 interview in our newsletter.
“I think, left unchecked, PERS will just, very simply, sink the whole state.”
Has one sentenced, uttered by Knight a year and a half ago, changed the politics of Oregon?
We hope so.
It’s a question of greed. After all, these are the good times for Oregon.
Unemployment is at a historic low. The state’s GDP has outperformed the national average for the last several years, and state revenues are at record levels. New building construction in downtown Portland is everywhere in 2018, a far cry from the ghost town days of 2008 when there wasn’t a single construction crane in sight.
And the good times are expected to continue: This month’s economic forecast (Oregon Economic and Revenue Forecast, September 2018) as prepared by the state’s Office of Economic Analysis reports, “The state’s Real Gross State Product is projected to be the seventh fastest among all states in the country through 2023.”
With things so good, why are things so bad? Why is the state of Oregon so dysfunctional?
Why do we have the shortest school year in the country by 15 days? Why do we have the worse high school graduation rates in the country?
Why do we have the second highest percentage of people on food stamps? Why do we have the highest percentage of drug and alcohol addicted citizens in the nation, nearly 10 percent?
Why do we have as many as 30 percent of our children living under the poverty line in Southwest Oregon? Why do we have thousands of homeless people living in homeless camps in downtown Portland, ruining the livability of a once proud city?
And why is the state of Oregon’s potential financial exposure to its PERS system as much as $200 billion under water (according to Allen Alley)? Why is Oregon's looming PERS bankruptcy risk as great per capita as Illinois or even greater?
And these are the good times for Oregon ... ?
It is a question of governance. The union machine has won nine straight gubernatorial elections. And now the machine is headed by one of it weakest office holders, Gov. Kate Brown, who didn’t earn the office but inherited in instead when John Kitzhaber resigned. Few who really understand the realities of the problems listed above want to think about an Oregon future led by such a mediocre, unimaginative and weak governor as Brown.
Nine elections in a row constitute the Oregon GOP gubernatorial losing streak that began in 1986 when Neil Goldschmidt beat Norma Paulus. Putting aside the partisan yardstick, a case can be made that Democrats fielded better candidates than Republicans in those nine elections. But not so this time.
There is no comparison between the quality, talent, intelligence, and character of Knute Buehler versus Kate Brown. It is not a close call.
Put aside growing up in a blue collar family in Roseburg, put aside the fact that Buehler went on to become the first Rhodes Scholar in the history of Oregon State University, or that he was educated at Johns Hopkins Medical School, or that he build a successful orthopedic business, or that he invented new medical devices and equipment, or that he has a wonderful family, or that he’s been a success in the state legislature. All of that matters. But what matters most is our state's desperate need for leadership, for a fresh set of eyes on the state’s lengthy list of dysfunctional, intractable problems.
This time Republicans have fielded the better candidate by far to achieve that goal – a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, proven leader. The state has been waiting for this kind of middle-of-the-road leader to unite all Oregonians in problem solving.
Knute Buehler is not only going to beat Kate Brown in November, but he’s also going to be the kind of governor who allows all Oregonians to exercise their talents and aspire to their full potential, rather than wallow in the mediocrity of self-serving union partisanship.
This election, friends don’t let friends vote for Kate Brown. Because if they do, her reelection will, as Phil Knight predicted, “very simply, sink the whole state.”
The Buehler Bump
In the three days following Donald Trump’s election victory, the stock market shot up nearly three percent. While much of the nation was shocked that “The Donald” actually pulled it off, financial markets seemed exuberant. Two months after Trump’s election, consumer confidence jumped more than 10 percentage points. Never Trumpers and the budding Resistance shrugged off the gains: “He hasn’t done anything yet!”
But he did. His election was an announcement that the Obama Presidency was over and there would be no third term under Hillary Clinton. Just the signal that it was safe to do business again was enough to send the stock market soaring and boost consumer confidence.
President Obama had a disdain for business. In 2012, he famously said, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” It was more than just words, though. Obama-era policies such as the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, onerous overtime rules, and small business tax hikes stifled business.
The economy lagged so much that the Obama apologists looked past their own policies and pushed depressing ideas such as “secular stagnation” and “the new normal” as excuses for sluggish growth. But, there was nothing secular or normal. Each new tax, regulation and mandate on employers was another straw breaking the camel’s back. Trump promised to shake off some of those straws.
Today, Oregon is in the same situation the country was in on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. While the economy is rebounding from the last recession, per capita personal income is still 10 percent lower than the national average. Since the recession, both high wage and low wage jobs have seen increased employment. However, there are now fewer middle wage jobs than before the recession.
Since taking office, Governor Kate Brown has signed into law steep increases in the state minimum wage, mandatory paid sick time for employees, and complex “predictive scheduling” rules for employers in the retail, food services and hospitality industries. This year, she signed a huge hike in taxes paid by closely held businesses, such as S-corporations, LLCs and partnerships. Nearly every election cycle, businesses face a new ballot measure threatening to raise their taxes along with vicious rhetoric that business never pays its “fair share.”
Looking past the impacts of the policies she imposes to slow growth, Governor Brown pushes the depressing idea that economic growth will never be sufficient to support an ever-expanding state government. At the Oregon Leadership Summit in 2015, the governor put it this way: “We need to quit arguing about whether the glass is half full or half empty — and instead acknowledge that there’s not quite enough water to go around.”
This year there’s a chance — a real chance — that Oregon will put a pro-growth Republican, Knute Buehler, in the governor’s mansion. If that happens, be prepared for a boost of exuberance and energy from Oregon business. The mere threat of a veto or line-item veto will change the legislature’s priorities. Savvy legislators won’t want to waste time pushing bills that can’t get the two-thirds supermajority necessary to overturn a veto. Oregon Democrats in the legislature have been eyeing a $1.4 billion cap-and-trade bill, “reforms” to the property tax system, and employer-paid day care. All of these will be a no-go in the face of a gubernatorial veto.
If the Oregon governor’s race turns back the blue wave predicted elsewhere, prepare for a Buehler Bump. His victory will be an announcement that the past decade of single-party rule in Oregon is over and an era of bipartisan solutions has begun. The message: It’s safe to do business in Oregon. That, by itself, will spur much needed economic growth, provide much needed tax relief, and restore much need confidence in our state government.
By Dr. Eric Fruits
The Women of the Oregon GOP
In her recent Washington Post column, “If you want more women in politics, don’t look to the GOP,” Jennifer Rubin talks about the polarization of gender along political lines. Rubin notes that where Democrats have nominated 183 female candidates to the House of Representatives this cycle, Republicans have nominated only 52 women. With the increasing number of incidents being brought to light by the #MeToo movement and the political storm of accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, gender issues are front and center in our politics today.
Given that backdrop, it is surprising that more attention isn’t being paid to the fantastic crop of female candidates fielded by Oregon Republicans this election cycle. These candidates will bring more diversity to the Oregon legislature, not just because of gender but also because of their varied backgrounds and perspectives, specifically perspectives from the private sector. Too often members of our legislature come from work backgrounds in government institutions, such as GED Administrator Nancy Nathanson, from lawyers like Karin Power, or from labor unions like Andrea Salinas. Getting a freshman class of women with impressive private sector experiences would be a great boon for our legislature.
Twelve of the 24 non-incumbent Republican House candidates this cycle are women, many of whom are running in the state’s most competitive races -- candidates who will bring a fresh perspective from outside of the government. There are some incredibly strong female Republicans who have the possibility to reshape the image of the Oregon Republican party going forward. This could be one of the most exciting and dynamic crops of Republican candidates we have seen in a long time.
In House District 15, Shelly Boshart-Davis is running to replace Representative Andy Olson as the Representative from Albany. Boshart-Davis has proven herself to be a capable businesswoman, building up the family farm she grew up on and running a commercial trucking company. Because of that experience she will be a leader in the legislature in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure and trade issues.
In House District 54, multiple restaurant owner Cheri Helt is running to replace Knute Buehler. A fiercely independent candidate, Helt easily fits the mold of successful Bend Republicans. Helt’s restaurants are some of the highest rated in the city of Bend, and that is not by accident, but as a direct result of her tenacity and savvy. With her three terms on the Bend-La Pine School Board and her experience as a small business owner, Helt provides an important perspective on education and business issues that is desperately needed in Salem.
In House District 20, Selma Pierce is running to replace Representative Paul Evans. A successful dentist with deep ties to her community, Pierce was introduced to many of us during her husband Bud’s run for governor. Pierce is a committed community leader who has served on a number of foundation and nonprofit boards. With an eye for human services issues that Republicans all too often cede to Democrats and the drive to get things done, Pierce is the right kind of Republican to represent Salem/Monmouth.
In House District 39, Christine Drazan is running to replace Representative Bill Kennemer. Drazan worked for Republicans in the legislature back when Republicans were actually in charge. Drazan knows how Salem operates and will be a highly capable legislator, ready to effectively and immediately serve her community and the state. More recently Drazan has served as the executive director of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition. Drazan brings a passion for the arts, a wealth of experience, and a firm grasp of the issues facing our state. Drazan will be a great benefit to the House.
In House District 51, Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer is back for a rematch with Representative Janelle Bynum. Chavez-DeRemer lost one of the closest elections of 2016 and is working aggressively to produce a different result this cycle. Chavez-DeRemer was elected in 2010 as the first female mayor of Happy Valley and since then has successfully served as the head of one of the fastest growing communities in Oregon. In addition to her duties as mayor, Chavez-DeRemer is a business owner with a background in marketing.
If one of your goals is to see more women in political office, then the strategy of putting all your eggs in one political party’s basket only polarizes our politics more. We need more women in office because it will bring more diverse viewpoints to our political discussions. With that aim in mind, it is also critical to have women elected with different backgrounds, especially those who can shed light on what it's like to work in the private sector of our state.
Oregon Republicans deserve credit for their concerted efforts to recruit more diverse high-quality candidates, and those candidates deserve to be elected.