The charismatic East Portland State Legislator Jefferson Smith showed up at the City Council's special session on the East Portland Action Plan last night fresh from the budgetary butcher shop in Salem. He spoke in favor of the action plan — which council unanimously adopted — saying he believes its strategies "will lower the level of poverty and lower the level of homelessness in East Portland." I caught him on the way out to ask what it's looking like this week in Salem, where politicians are scrambling to try and cover Oregon's up to $1 billion budget hole.
Smith immediately launched into an oration on highly-decorated badass Admiral James Bond Stockdale, an American who was held in a Vietnamese prison camp for seven years. What Stockdale did to survive Viet Cong prison camp, says Smith, is what Oregon needs to do to survive the budget crisis.
"Stockdale came to a realization of what it took to get out of a prison camp alive. The first people who didn't make it were people who said, 'We'll be out by Christmas.' And they didn't get out by Christmas and they lost hope and they didn't make it. The other people who didn't make it were those people who didn't make it were people who said, 'We'll never get out.' And they never had hope and they didn't make it. The people who made it out were those people who could be both brutally honest about the facts facing their situation and still have hope... I think the state needs to do two different things psychologically. One is get past that sense of denial. Simultaneously, we need to boost our sense of hope and confidence that over time we'll be successful."
The fights in Salem over which chunks of the budget to slice are getting pretty vicious, especially over hot button issues like cutting school days. "It seems like there is the will to get a full school year and that may not seem like a big deal, but it is," said Smith. "And there is going to be blood on the ground because of it."
"uh..." I asked nervously, "Whose blood?"
"I mean political blood," continued Smith, saying that he's upset with the way the debate has developed to be basically a polarizing binary: chop vs. tax.
"The Oregonian had a headline 'BEER TAX!'" said Smith. "It should have read, "HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS?!"