The one inescapable insight gleaned from last Wednesday's city council hearing/public squabble over sending charter reform to the ballot: Democracy is a tedious bitch.
It is, at least, when lawmakers fail to hammer out their details and differences before bringing them to the public. In this case, Commissioners Erik Sten and Randy Leonard weren't about to let Mayor Tom Potter's "strong mayor" proposal through without a fight—and that fight dragged on for six long hours.
The difficulty was that Potter was pushing through four distinct proposals—on the recommendation of the Charter Review Commission— that hadn't yet been debated in public. Any one of those recommendations could have, and should have, taken weeks or more of public testimony and debate. Instead, they all got rushed through in one session, with the frightening result of ballot language being written on the fly and voted on minutes later.
The word "filibuster" was whispered under the breaths of a few staffers and observers, impatient with Sten and Leonard's endless questioning. It was laborious and—at times—painful (especially considering how damned uncomfortable the chairs are in city hall), but since it was really the first public debate, and since the proposals will completely change the way Portland government works, perhaps a little tedium was warranted.
Of course, none of the squabbling changed anything—Potter still got everything he wanted. But one could make the argument that Sten and Leonard ultimately won the day by showing that the proposals are a mess, and that Potter was desperate to get them on the ballot at any cost.
On the flipside, here's how you get things done! Last Wednesday, Leonard introduced a resolution calling on the federal government to impose tighter local restrictions on benzene—a chemical spewed by cars that leads to some awful health problems.
It passed unanimously, but unlike city council's long history of well meaning but unsuccessful symbolic resolutions, something actually happened! Oregon Senator Ron Wyden put the squeeze on the EPA; coupled with the pressure from city council, the agency totally caved, leading to safer air for us to breathe... in five years.
Well, okay, ha ha. In reality, Wyden had been working on this for months, and this proposal probably wasn't the final straw. But Leonard is running for reelection in 2008, and he needs to decide on a campaign slogan—between this benzene thing, his biodiesel mandate, and an attempt to ban smoking in city parks, it's obvious what he's going for: "Randy Leonard—Running On Fumes."