Commentary

What’s What in Our Government? Let’s Get Smarter about Portland, Oregon

Contributed by Dannelle D. Stevens, Chair of the Election Integrity Platform Sub-committee

Portland City Hall

Portland used to be called “the city that works”.  Now, it doesn’t seem to work!
What can YOU do about it?  A lot!

First, note that a citizen-oversight group is working on making a difference and has the power to make a big difference!  The Portland Charter Review Commission was created by law and meets every 10 years to assess how our city government is working. Check out the Commission here!. This current citizen-oversight group of 20 mostly young, diverse, and politically active people can recommend to the current council and send to voters their recommendations for changes in our city government STRUCTURE and OPERATIONS!

Second, recognize that this Portland Charter Review Commission needs to hear from all of us.
Submit only your email for updates for Review Commission meetings and activities.

Third, ACT!  Pay attention to the Commission website because they are in “the-seeking-public-comment” mode.   To comment on changing the form of government, you can enter your comment here: PublicComment Form of Government. Submit your comment by 8:00 AM two days before the meeting.To attend the Form of Government meeting via Zoom, go to the EVENTS page on the Review Commission website and click the Zoom link on the day. There are other meetings on the Events page that you might want to attend, as well.

Form of Government Sub-Committee: Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, 6-8 PM and Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, 6-8 PM

Here is a quick summary of the problems and suggestions for improvement in Form of Government.

Fundamental problems with the structure of the city of Portland government

Currently, there are only five Council members.  We have a COMMISSION form of government. All Council members are elected at large, meaning by all the people, not by geographic districts. The Mayor is elected at large and is one of the five members of the City Council.

After Commissioners are elected and as a commission form of government, the Mayor divides up all the city agencies and each Council member manages that agency. They must manage key city agencies like housing, water, police, parks and recreation, development services, social services, etc.

None of these commissioners are elected with the idea that they know anything about managing, for example, the water bureau. None are prepared to manage these large and complex agencies. It takes a long time to learn how to work with the agencies, implement policies, and meet the city’s needs like addressing the homeless crisis.

Many observers have concluded that the commission form of government might work for a city of 10,000, but, not for a big city of more than 800,000.

There are experts who do know and can manage these vital departments in a non-partisan way. These experts would be accountable to the City Council. Many cities around Portland have a city manager-council form of government.

Suggested Ideas for addressing these structural problems.

1. Fundamentally change the form of government from the commission form to a form with a City Manager who is hired and can be fired by the City Council, and a City Council of at least nine members with or without a mayor elected separately.

 2. Fundamentally change job descriptions. City Council members would maintain its legislative role–making policy and allocating money to implement policy.  The City Manager would manage all agencies.

 3. Elect a non-partisan mayor in a city-wide election. Elect non-partisan council members by districts that are drawn by an independent, non-partisan commission. Districts should be equally populated, contiguous and compact, and represent the diversity of the city’s residents. Each district would have the same number of representatives; 1 or more.  4. Create citizen oversight and advisory boards to to inform bureaus and departments–such as policing, land use, homelessness, civil rights, parks and recreation.

This is part of a series of articles about how government works. For more information about the Election Integrity Study Group, visit the Volunteer Opportunities page. To contact Dannelle D. Stevens, email

photo credit: Wikipedia

Democrats and the Oregon Economy in a Changing Climate

By Tracy Farwell, PCP

In 2016 Oregon Business Leaders convened their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction Task Force to formulate a 5-year plan to recommend strategies to reduce in-state emissions.  These leaders did not question the link between business climate and state emissions.

Legislators, mostly Democrats, energetically responded to the carbon pricing strategies recommended in the task force report found here, pages 17-19.

This is what the business task force recognized:

The longer we delay, the more climate change adaptation and mitigation will cost.  Taking the wrong actions today could also increase costs; increasing energy prices would hurt the pocketbooks of Oregonians and reduce the competitiveness of Oregon businesses in the global marketplace. 

There was nothing unconventional about this strategy.  Notably, it provided evidence that declines in GHG emissions were attained with no adverse trends in economic measures like GDP.  Legislators, mostly Democrats, energetically researched and compiled a comprehensive bill and gave it a priority in the 2020 session in Salem.  It offered relief from economic stress to specified business interests including agriculture and forestry.  Then there were surprises.  Log trucks circled the Capitol.*  Rural legislators left the state.  It was clear that some electeds regarded economic threats from carbon pricing to exceed the prospects of climate/economic damage not seen until today (105 deg F, higher tomorrow).

These Oregon Business Strategies from 2017 clearly offered a success path in defending GHG-sensitive resources (people, property, agriculture, forestry, public health, the young and the old) from predictable and dire circumstances coming to pass now.

*It must be noted that Oregon timber harvester interests were not included as members of the task force but had a disproportionate role in defeating the business task force strategies dealing with cap and trade policy.

Oregon takes a significant leadership role

Today our Oregon legislature passed the 2021 Clean Energy Bill, HB 2021 C.  Rather than pricing carbon it calls for a positive transition to non-emitting energy sources that are less costly for utilities and eventually rate-payers than carbon-sourced energy.  Here are the emission reduction numbers (expressed annually in million metric tons of CO2 – mmtCO2 ) as committed for Oregon’s future if the transition non-emitting resources succeeds by the legislated end dates.  Oregon’s annual emissions are typically reported as 60 mmt CO2 in adding up all sectors.

1HB 2021 C‘Baseline emissions level’ means the average annual emissions of greenhouse gas for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 associated with the electricity sold to retail electricity consumers …Emissions Displaced per yearEnd dates
2010 = 20.3 mmt CO2
2011 = 18.1 mmt CO2
2012 = 17.3 mmt CO2, with average of 19 mmt CO2/year.
Ref  https://www.oregon.gov/deq/aq/programs/Pages/GHG-Inventory.aspx
Cut electricity emissions 40% of 19 mmt CO2/year  7.6 mmt CO2By 2025
Cut electricity emissions 80% of 19 mmt CO2/year15.2 mmt CO2By 2030
Cut electricity emissions 90% of 19 mmt CO2/year17.1 mmt CO2By 2035
100% non-emitting energy  19 mmt CO2By 2040
2UNEPCompared to 2010 = 65.6 mmt CO2
Cut all emissions 45% of 65.6 mmt CO2/year30 mmt CO2By 2030

You will find it difficult to find any enacted policy anywhere on the planet that in one measure attains half of the UN IPCC carbon reduction goals in the energy sector by 2030.  The good news does not end here.

Duty of care begins with knowing what is needed.  Significant progress in cutting carbon emissions since 2000 is not generally known.  To continue effectively and confidently, our advances must be understood from open evidence.

This IEA graphic shows that annual carbon emissions declined during the global COVID crisis and are expected to rebound as economies return.  Various possibilities for rebound are noted.  Global emissions are measured in Gigatons CO2/yr (Gt CO2).  Gt = billions = 1000 mmt

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

From The Guardian

What is the % decline in emissions due to COVID beginning early 2020?  It’s about 11%.

A similar decline occurred from the 2008 mortgage crisis, measured in millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions reduction in 2009 in California.  The % decline measured from CA emissions data was 6% per year.

As our commitments get more serious, it’s good to know what it took to attain these historical reductions on a beneficial scale.

Emissions from business-as-usual in the US have been in decline for a number of reasons.  “With emissions down 21% below 2005 levels, this means the US is expected to far exceed its 2020 Copenhagen Accord target of a 17% reduction below 2005 levels.”  This quote from a Rhodium Group report indicates a trend that should enlist continuing confidence in steady decarbonization:  business is finding ways to reduce carbon fuels, operate more efficiently, invest in energy saving technology.  https://rhg.com/research/preliminary-us-emissions-2020/  

Clean energy subsidies have taken on a significant role, enabling cycles of virtuous investment.  “How the U.S. Made Progress on Climate Change Without Ever Passing a Bill

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/06/climate-change-green-vortex-america/619228/

Democrats and the Oregon Economy?  Is anyone more effective in dealing with the fossil fuel-driven future that no one wanted or admitted?

A brief history of the racial culture in Oregon and why Juneteenth matters

 

Oregon Senator Lew Frederick with the author’s children.

Today, Oregon is known as one of the most broad-minded states in the country. It has consistently for years been placed in polls as one of the top 10 most liberal states to live in.  Portland, the state’s largest city, has hosted the most continuous Black Lives Matter protest in the nation. It is also credited as one of the driving forces against the Trump Administration’s attempts to use the Nixonian campaign strategy of “law and order” to win a second term. Just recently on June 1st, 2021 the Oregon State Senate passed House Bill 2168 establishing a cultural and historical significant date as an official Oregon State holiday known as Juneteenth. Senator Lew Fredericks stated “HB 2168 designates June 19th as an Oregon State holiday, commemorating the arrival on horseback of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, in 1865 to the cheers of African Americans then Enslaved.”

As forward thinking as Oregon is, and as supportive as Oregon appears to be of its African American residents, the 86% white state has a history of racial subjugation and prejudicial societal ideals. Even before Oregon became a state it was being purposely designed as a Caucasian-only haven. In the 1840’s the provisional government enacted laws against slavery while at the same time forbidding people of African descent the legality of settling in the area. With such laws as the 1843 Oregon Lash law stating that any free black person over the age of 18 “caught” living in Oregon was to be whipped every six months by the county constable until the person left the territory; literally criminalizing the presence of black people in the region. In 1859 Oregon was the first and the only state to be admitted into the Union with Racial Exclusion Laws in its Constitution. The laws remained until 1926, with original racist language finally being changed in 2002. In the 1920’s, one in twenty Oregonians was a card carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan, the highest percentage of any state west of the Mississippi.

Oregon has been slow to confront its bigoted history, taking 89 years (in 1959) to affirm the 15th amendment giving Black citizens the right to vote (which was ratified by the rest of country on February 3rd , 1870) and 162 years to eradicate the racist language in its constitution. Oregon also took another More baffling still, is the fact that Oregon didn’t fully ratify the 14th amendment granting citizenship and equal protection to African Americans until 1973!

It is important for societies to remember their histories, especially when it comes from such places as Oregon’s racially iniquitous past. As the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We can use it as a barometer to measure where we are and what direction we as a state should be headed. State Senator Lew Frederick (D-Portland) said it best “This new holiday recognizes that the people of the state of Oregon, despite our past, can take the veil of ignorance away and each year celebrate hope on Juneteenth.”  That being said, Juneteenth’s recognition as an official state holiday starting June 19th, 2022 does not erase the past, but shows us as citizens of Oregon that however slow; progress is being made.

Please see more about Juneteenth, in this 2020 article by Dr. Rosa Colquitt, HERE.

(Damien Grace is the pen name of David Burnell, Multnomah County Democrats activist and PCP in HD 43.)

MARCH Digest: Strengthening Democracy

March is women’s history month, and four years ago, women took to the streets to lead protests across the US that set a tone of resistance against an autocratic president who sought to undermine our democracy. Four years later, voters rejected the trend toward autocratic rule in favor of restoring respect for the rule of law. In Georgia, Stacy Abrams spent years preparing the ground game that flipped that state blue to establish a united government under Democrats for what may be a brief window of opportunity.  

This month, in honor of the leadership of the women who pushed back against authoritarianism, the March Digest focuses on how we move forward to strengthen democracy. We have worked too hard and come too far to not go the rest of the way and pass legislation that stops voter suppression and protects democracy for future generations. HB1, the For the People Act in Congress, goes a long way to resolve many of the issues. Closer to home, the Election Integrity Caucus of the state Demoratic party released its Alternative Voting Methods Report calling out STAR Voting as the best popular alternative voting method in Oregon and calling for it’s adoption statewide.

In this issue, we will look at some of the steps we still need to take to restore and assure election integrity, including voting reform, and we’ll spotlight some of the women in our local party who are leading the charge to make sure aspiring autocrats never have a chance to gain a foothold in this country again.

Reparations Resolution FAQ

On Thursday, June 9, 2020, the precinct committee persons (PCPs) of Multnomah Democrats will vote on Resolution 2020-13 The Debt: the Case for Reparations. The resolution’s primary author, Quinton Blanton, provided this FAQ for PCPs to read in advance of the vote.

What is the purpose of a reparations program?

In the book From Here to Equality, Dr. Sandy Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen advance a general definition of reparations as a program of acknowledgement, redress, and closure.

Is it illegal to allocate funds specifically to ADOS?

No. There’s no intrinsic illegality to group specific or race specific policies. Japanese American reparations, for example, were group specific.

How will we be able to tell who is eligible for reparations vs. who is not?

Two criterion can be advanced for eligibility. First, an individual must establish that they have at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the US. Second, an individual must demonstrate that they have self-identified as Black, Negro, or African American on an official document-perhaps making the self-report of their race on the US Census—for at least 12 years before the enactment of programs tied to the funds. This criteria was created by Duke University economist William “Sandy” Darity.

Why is the ADOS distinction necessary?

            ADOS is a necessary distinction because if reparations do in fact gain traction nationally, people who are opposed to reparations could make the argument that Black immigration to the U.S. has increased significantly since the 1980’s, they were never enslaved in the U.S. so why should they be paid reparations? From a legal standpoint, a reparations claim against the federal government must be specific and requires inclusion and exclusion.

How will the effectiveness of a reparations program be measured?

According to Dr. Darity, the goal of a reparations program for ADOS should be to close the racial wealth gap in its entirety. Therefore, it is essential that the mean gap be erased, rather than setting a far less ambitious goal such as closing the ADOS-white median differential. Establishing a monitoring system to evaluate whether the ADOS-white wealth gap disparity is closing will be desirable.

How to calculate the cost of reparations?

There are a variety of strategies for calculating the size of social debt that is owed. Professor Thomas Craemer has calculated the cost of reparations through a stolen labor framework. In today’s dollars, he arrives at an estimate of $14 trillion for the cost of American slavery to the enslaved. The central argument of Dr. Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen, which I tend to agree with is that the elimination of the ADOS-white wealth gap should provide the foundation for the magnitude of the debt owed.

Where will the money for reparations come from

 As journalist Matthew Yglesias has proposed, Congress could direct the Federal Reserve to fund ADOS reparations either in part or in total. Given the overnight transfer of $1 trillion of funds from the Federal Reserve to investment banks during the Great Recession and monthly outlays of $45 to $55 billion to conduct “quantitative easing,” there can be no doubt that the Fed has vast capacity to provide the funds required for a properly designed and financed reparations program, particularly if the funds are disbursed over the course of three to five years. The Fed certainly could manage an annual outlay of $1 to $1.5 trillion without any difficulty—and this funding mechanism would not have to affect tax rates for any American. Moreover, the Federal Reserve is a public bank charged with conducting a public responsibility.

Why should I have to pay reparations? My ancestors didn’t own any slaves.

The culpable party is the U.S. government. Often, the federal government further sanctioned racial atrocities by silence and inaction. ADOS reparations are not a matter of personal or individual institutional guilt; ADOS reparations are a matter of national responsibility. Furthermore, The poverty created by slavery and Jim Crow are still in the system, just like the wealth created by slavery and Jim Crow are still in the system.

White ethnics such as the Irish and Italians came here and were discriminated against by the U.S. government, yet they still rose in spite of their handicaps why didn’t ADOS do the same?

It is important to note that in some respects, the Irish were treated worse than Blacks for the most part when they first arrived in the U.S. However, they were eventually absorbed into whiteness due to their willingness to inflict violence against ADOS and by expressing anti-ADOS sentiments. The Democratic Party and early labor unions also eased the assimilation of the Irish into whiteness. Whitness is a social construct that is dynamic. It expands and changes based on its need. I suggest everyone read Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White.

White people have never received “handouts” from the government, why should Black people get governmental “handouts”?

Framing reparations as a handout or a one time check rather than a debt is a conservative, right wing talking point that is untrue. A program of reparations is much more than a check. It must include multi-pronged policies and laws, protections, therapy, and training to fill the void of knowledge gaps. Also, white America has in fact recieved numerous handouts from the federal government including 160-acre land grants through the Homstead Act, access to New Deal and Fair Deal programs, the G.I. bill and much more. While white America received these handouts ADOS were denied access to them and were never given their 40-acres, which is partly why the ADOS-white wealth disparity is so vast, entrenched, and unshakeable. The wealth ADOS managed to accumulate in the nineteenth and  twentitieth centuries was far too often plundered via white mob violence, lynching, redlining, and credit discrimination.

Reflections on Pride 2020

By Rachelle Dixon and Eric Delehoy

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a neighborhood gay bay in New York City.  They harassed and brutalized patrons, as they always had.  But this time, patrons had had enough.

Marsha P. Johnson, a Black Trans Woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latina Trans Woman, led patrons in resistance, and a resulting riot that lasted six days.  They stood up against the racism and transphobia leveled at them, and the anti-LBGTQ sentiment leveled at their community, so that each of us can now be safe in our own skin, no matter what skin that is.

The next year, the first Pride Parades appeared in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

This year is no different than others.  We understand racism, transphobia, and homophobia continue to impact many lives.  And that’s why we stand with you.  Multnomah County Democrats will continue to fight for your rights to be safe, no matter your identities.  For that reason, we are reaching out to you, to pledge that even though we can’t get together to celebrate with a parade this year, we are with you every step of the way. Pride is about embracing and celebrating difference, about taking a public stand to demand safety and enjoy the freedoms the US Constitution guaranteed for all of us.  Keep being your wonderful selves!  We hope to march alongside you, not just at Pride, but every day ahead.

Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom

A message from Rosa Colquitt, PhD, Chair, Democratic Party of Oregon Black Caucus

Juneteenth, (“June” plus “nineteenth”) sometimes called “Jubilee,” indicating the year of freedom from enslavement, or even more simply “Freedom Day,” is indeed a remarkable story commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States.

It was June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas with official news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free. Granger read General Order Number 3 as follows:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Amazingly, even in an era of slow communication and a nation at war, Granger was very late with important news of freedom – almost two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the Confederacy, at least on paper. In knowing the dehumanization of even one day of enslavement, I’ve looked for any historical explanations for the delay in delivering and enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation. One version of the story of “freedom delayed, freedom denied” was the tale of the messenger who was murdered on the way to Texas with the news. Another is that the official proclamation was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the “free labor” force on their plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas. Whether all or none of these versions are true, slavery in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

My mind can scarcely imagine the depths of the emotions and the fear of the unknown for the “newly freed” Black men, women and children of Texas. Yet, it is within this historical backdrop of delay, confusion and terror that we have the beginnings of one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period – the transformation of June 19 from a day of new freedom into an annual rite called “Juneteenth.”

Image of Rosa Colquitt, PhD
Rosa Colquitt PhD, Chair of the Black Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon, is co-chair of the Oregon delegation to the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Today, more than 154 years later, Juneteenth-centered activities are experiencing phenomenal growth and flourishing within communities and organizations throughout the country. The freedom celebrations highlight the tradition of bringing in guest speakers and the elders of the community to recount historical events of the past. Newer Juneteenth traditions focus on education and self-improvement, along with future community development, while cultivating knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture.

What many Americans remember most about Juneteenth is that it is always a joyful celebration of entertaining the masses with parades, musical entertainment, dance, games, and always food — an abundance of wonderfully prepared food. In Portland, Oregon, Juneteenth is combined with “Good in the Hood” for an unforgettable annual community celebration of young and old, family, friends, organizations and business vendors from every corner of the state, along with southwest Washington, and reflects all of our diverse racial and ethnic groups. For sure, no matter how large the gatherings at “Good in the Hood,” I always make my way from vendor to vendor until I have my soul food dinner of corn bread, black-eyed peas, collard greens and bar-b-que, and I always bring my own bottle of red soda water, just in case they don’t have it. One can’t quite celebrate Juneteenth without this original Texas tradition. (And, unless I forget, there’s always a bottle of hot sauce in my purse.)

Among all emancipation celebrations, we are reminded that June 19 falls closest to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year when the sun, at its zenith, defies the darkness in every state, including those states shadowed by slavery. By choosing to remember the last state in the South that freedom touched, we celebrate the shining “promise of emancipation.” Still, we can never ignore or forget the bloody path America took by delaying freedom and deferring the fulfillment of the simple words in General Granger’s General Order Number 3: “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

While Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, Juneteenth 2020 is bittersweet. The recent events of 2020, the witnessing of the wrongful deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, is crushing our spirits and reminding us of the stark reality that the fight for racial justice, equality and freedom for BLACK LIVES continues.

On Election Day, Bernie’s Message Still Resonates for Me

Today in Oregon and in Multnomah County we vote in our Primary Election. Most of us have voted by now, but for all who have not yet turned in your ballots remember to drop your ballots off before 8 PM tonight at an official drop off site.

Bernie Sanders inspired many of us to envision a world where all residents could thrive, a world where a living wage and health care for all were the norm. That vision will continue. It is now up to us to come together, more than ever, at the local party level to demand that we the people, working together, take on the powers and money that would keep us from a better world for all.

In his speech announcing the suspension of his campaign and endorsement of Joe Biden, Bernie reflects powerfully upon the the work we are called upon to continue; making a better world and empowering all people.

He also evokes one of my favorite quotes:

It always seems impossible until it is done.

Nelson Mandela

Lurelle Robbins, Chair,

The Democratic Party of Multnomah County