This past Spring, the Mercury Endorsement Strike Force titled our endorsement issue, “Shake Up the City.” After years of enduring a business-as-usual mentality, the political climate—both nationally and locally—had become increasingly aggressive, sometimes in a very necessary way.
While he may not have secured the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders and his supporters successfully influenced the political machine. Unwilling to let Ted Wheeler or Jules Bailey waltz into the mayor’s office, a pack of local rabble-rousers and thinkers openly challenged these two longtime politicos—and the media outlets who listened (side-eye at the Oregonian) found the kind of spirited, smart debate that our democracy deserves. Likewise with upstart Chloe Eudaly, whose breadth of knowledge and passion on Portland’s housing crisis earned her a run off slot against incumbent Commissioner Steve Novick. Her message is one many want to hear.
But if May was marked by upstart or insurgent candidates, November’s election is all about forcing a call on issues the city and state have been dealing with for too long.
Overwhelming frustration with big corporations and Oregon’s lack of funding for schools and social services, for example, was the inspiration for Measure 97, which is promising to heavily tax large corporations and solve a funding puzzle our legislators have grappled with for decades.
And voters sick of the big money that influences political campaigns have latched onto Measure 26-184, which would limit big contributions and force a more honest approach to elections in Multnomah County.
Also, while the position of Multnomah County Sheriff has long been elected, some feel the system attracts corrupt good-ol’-boys (side-eye at disgraced former Sheriff Dan Staton). Hence Measure 26-183, which proposes that the public would be better served by allowing the county chair appoint the sheriff.
Now it’s the Mercury’s turn to “force the issue” by providing you with our opinions on the most important issues you’ll be voting on in November.
Are the measures and candidates we’re supporting perfect? Absolutely not—some are barely even palatable. But many of the issues we contemplate in this voter’s guide represent the dire situations we face as a city and state. However it all shakes out on November 8, it’s past time these issues came up for a vote.
(Also, don’t you fucking dare vote Trump.) WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
The Mercury Endorsement Strike Force is Editor-in-Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey, Managing Editor Erik Henriksen, Senior Editor Ned Lannamann, News Editor Dirk VanderHart, Arts Editor Megan Burbank, and news reporter Doug Brown. Our focus is largely on local, competitive races.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is arguably the most qualified person ever to run for president, and the woman who’s come the closest to making it. Also, she’s running against a man with zero policy experience who’s bragged about sexual assault. Yeah, this isn’t a tough call.
Clinton’s record says it all. She’s worked as an attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund, served on the impeachment inquiry staff advising the House Judiciary Committee on Watergate, was one of only two women to work on faculty at the University of Arkansas School of Law, helped co-found the first rape crisis hotline in Arkansas, single-handedly transformed the role of First Lady by taking an active role in shaping policy, worked across party lines to get shit done while representing New York in the US Senate, and gained huge approval ratings while serving as Secretary of State after losing the Democratic nomination to Obama in 2008.
This time around, Clinton is running on one of the most progressive Democratic Party platforms ever— one that calls for criminal justice and police reform; aims to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from covering abortion (and which disproportionately impacts low-income women and women of color); and advocates for immigration reform, a $15 minimum wage, and closing private prisons.
She’s also the only one who can save us from Donald Trump—whose mere existence requires a trigger warning.
Now is not the time for a protest vote. And besides, you deserve so much better than Jill Stein—whose pandering to the anti-vaxxer crowd is nearly as bad as her onetime folk band—or Gary Johnson, who doesn’t know what an Aleppo is.
If you sit this one out, you’re letting the emotional terrorists win. Vote Clinton.
CITY OF PORTLAND
CITY COMMISSIONER, POSITION 4:
Itall comes back to housing.
We were the only newspaper to endorse Reading Frenzy owner and housing advocate Chloe Eudaly in the primary over incumbent Steve Novick, and it was a tough call. But we were persuaded by Eudaly’s dedication to Portland’s escalating housing crisis. As a renter, small-business owner, and co-founder of both the Independent Publishing Resource Center and the Special Education PTA of Portland, Eudaly was easily the most impressive of Novick’s primary opponents. When she took second place for the right to face him in a runoff, Novick strongly implied that he’d prefer to run against Eudaly over third-place finisher Stuart Emmons (who boasted more cash and received an endorsement from the Oregonian).
Novick got his wish, and here we are. We’re still convinced Eudaly is the right person to hold city council accountable to cost-burdened renters in the midst of Portland’s affordable housing emergency. But, as in the primary, the Mercury Endorsement Strike Force was divided on this decision. We like Novick! Having a dad-joking, straight-talking commissioner around can be good in a city that’s often stymied by its own process-based politics. There are valid reasons we’ve endorsed him in the past. And while he’s certainly the safer candidate in this race—low-risk, but potentially low-reward—he mapped out a set of undeniable recent policy wins during our endorsement interview. It also seems Eudaly’s pushed him to come up with concrete suggestions for mitigating the city’s housing issues.
Eudaly has some weak spots. Though she’s clearly done her research on housing, she’ll need to get up to speed quick if she’s elected—even she concedes she almost certainly wouldn’t be given the all-important Portland Housing Bureau as a rookie. And it’s unclear how successfully Eudaly can mesh with the powerbrokers who—like it or not—still help make this city go. She’s garnered support from an array of small-business owners, labor unions, politicos, and artists, but hasn’t seen any interest from more typical check writers.
All that said: If Eudaly isn’t elected, there’s a good chance we’ll get more of the same. That’s more daunting than a learning curve. Vote Eudaly.
MULTNOMAH COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 1:
We’re suprised to find this is one of the more tepid endorsements we’re making in this election.
Back in May, emergency room doctor Sharon Meieran was a bright spot in the relatively crowded field to take over County Commissioner Jules Bailey’s seat.
Meieran’s medical experience meant she understood holes in the social safety net better than other candidates. She’d sat at the often-frustrating frontlines of reform as a member of the lapsed board that tried to help the city comply with a federal settlement over police abuses. And she is a proven champion of women’s reproductive rights.
If Meieran was also a bit hazy on the specifics of county governance, well, that was only to be expected. She’d learn in time.
Except, in sitting down again with Meieran and her runoff opponent, county employee Eric Zimmerman, we weren’t entirely convinced she’d learned all that much. Time and again, Meieran offered hazy or non-committal answers on questions revolving around housing and homelessness, which she says is the top issue facing the county.
Meieran might be for a large homeless shelter at the vacant Wapato facility in North Portland—she’s not sure. She could support rent control locally, but she needs to know more. She didn’t appear to have an informed take about a much-discussed homeless campus proposed at Northwest Portland’s Terminal 1 either, though the county’s taking on a larger role than ever in addressing homelessness.
All of which is to say she differs a great deal from Zimmerman, who has spent years as chief of staff to departing County Commissioner Diane McKeel. Not only does Zimmerman understand the ins and outs of county process, he’s taking strong positions, and rightly calling out Meieran for being wishy-washy.
He’d likely have our support—if we could bring ourselves to agree with more of those positions.
Zimmerman’s made the Wapato question a central point of this general election. He’s lumping himself in with McKeel and Commissioner Loretta Smith as a vocal booster for opening the never-used jail as a large-scale shelter. In doing so, Zimmerman says he’s the only candidate presenting a path to shelter all of Portland’s homeless.
But opponents voice legitimate concerns about Wapato’s location and the issues with sheltering a huge amount of people in one space. Zimmerman, when pressed, acknowledges that many homeless services agencies and advocates have concerns about such an approach, and that there’s no telling if people would choose to go there. Given the power, it appears he’d disregard those concerns.
Some other stances: Zimmerman has opposed letting the county have even the option to enact rent controls in the past (he says he’s since changed his mind), defended the 48-hour rule that gives cops two days after shooting someone to speak with internal investigators (it was just scrapped), and doesn’t support the effort to enact campaign finance limits in Multnomah County (he likes the idea, not the specific proposal).
Zimmerman’s a confident, likeable candidate, and alone, none of these stances would be a deal-breaker. Combined, they give us pause.
So we’re left where we were in May: Optimistic that Meieran’s ample background has prepared her to lead in a county government that has a great deal of sway over social services. And, yes, similar to our endorsement of Chloe Eudaly, we’re optimistic she’ll figure out the specifics as she goes.
To be frank, we don’t completely buy the line coming from either side of the debate around Measure 97, the hugely contentious $3 billion corporate tax that’s become the state’s most expensive race ever. If enacted, the measure would have an enormous effect on state finances, ballooning Oregon’s general fund by roughly one-third.
On the one hand, some of the country’s wealthiest companies have gathered to clutch pearls at what they say is a “sales tax” in disguise. They argue Measure 97’s increased tax burden—2.5 percent on all Oregon sales over $25 million for so-called “C corporations”—would have catastrophic impact on low-income families, who will be disproportionately forced to eat the higher prices spurred by the tax.
Proponents, largely made up of public sector labor unions, dismiss this as a possibility. They bald-facedly wave off any suggestion that the public might see the business end of higher corporate taxes (in their power bills, for instance).
There are economists who’ll cop to each side of this debate, and the reality is somewhere in between. It is highly unlikely you, consumer, won’t see some price increases if 97 passes. It is also unlikely that companies would pass every cent of that $3 billion onto you.
But let’s get to the reason Measure 97 is being debated in the first place, and one thing that big businesses, unions, and everyone else can agree on: Oregon has a revenue problem.
Past ballot measures have limited how much property tax the state can collect, and income taxes are notoriously sensitive to economic ebbs and flows. Since Oregon has no sales tax, it’s on a tenuous budgetary footing that legislators have worried about for more than two decades.
There’s an immediate example looming right now, actually: Current estimates place the state’s budget shortfall for the 2017-19 biennium north of $1 billion. Either we find new cash or we slash services—including, potentially, cuts to a state education system that already lags behind the rest of the country.
By all accounts, Measure 97 is an enormous tax increase. It’s also blunt and pandering, the way revenue measures hoping to pass a public vote tend to be. The labor types backing Measure 97 make plain their disdain for large corporations at a time of rising wealth inequality.
Analysts say the tax would affect roughly 1,000 businesses, most of them headquartered outside of Oregon, some of which have been found to stash money overseas to avoid paying tax.
Those aren’t the only businesses that would be affected, though. One of the things we struggled with in this endorsement is the potential hazards the measure could create for businesses that sell lots of product without necessarily reaping huge profits from those sales.
There’s also concern for how the money would be spent, and whether it’s fair to hike taxes only on C corporations. The measure says revenue would be dedicated to health care, education, and senior services, but there aren’t hard-and-fast safeguards to make that happen. As much as proponents seek to dismiss these blemishes, they are real.
But here’s something else that’s real: The revenue problem that legislators have been unable to fix for 20-plus years. Part of their inaction has to do with Oregon rules that require a three-fifths majority to pass new taxes, a rarity in the country.
Opponents of Measure 97 point out its flaws, but they’re also not talking about other options. And the detractors’ arguments seem more than a little familiar: We could not be more fucking numb to complaints from groups like the Portland Business Alliance that purport to be full of concern for the little guy but are actually smokescreens for business owners who don’t want to pay more tax.
Since Oregonians have repeatedly shot down a sales tax, Oregon has the lowest corporate tax in the country, according to one oft-cited analysis.
It’s clear, given both our state’s challenges and basic fairness, that large companies should pay more. We’re not sure Measure 97 is exactly the right type of “more,” but it’s something—which is more than Oregon has been able to accomplish on this issue in far too long.
(Outdoor Education Fund):
If you grew up in Oregon, there’s a good chance you attended one of the week-long “Outdoor Schools” offered to kids in fifth or sixth grade. It’s a great way for children to shut off their goddamn infernal techno devices and spend time out in the wild, studying natural science, gaining leadership skills, and learning how to protect our valuable resources.
But naturally, money’s tight, which means that nowadays, only about half of Oregon’s students are able to attend. A “yes” vote on Measure 99 would change that by creating an Outdoor Education Fund that would come from the state lottery—4 percent to be exact, or roughly $5.5 million. (It won’t take lottery money from parks, beaches, watersheds, or fish and wildlife.) And after shipping every Oregon kid off to camp for a week? Any leftover money would go toward funding other outdoor programs at Oregon public schools.
Who’s against it? Those who feel Outdoor School will drain money from economic development. But here’s the thing: You can teach kids all the natural science you want inside the classroom, but it’s no substitute for getting the firsthand knowledge that only being out in nature can provide. And smarter, more environmentally astute kids equal a more informed, better equipped workforce of the future. Vote “yes.”
(Oregon Wildlife Trafficking Prevention):
With measure 100, Oregonians are asked whether to ban the sale of animal parts from 12 endangered animals: rhinoceroses, cheetahs, tigers, sea turtles, lions, elephants, whales, sharks, pangolins(!), jaguars, rays, and leopards.
And because you’re not a soulless asshole who believes your desire to display the dead body parts of an endangered animal on your wall is more important than protecting endangered animals, you should vote “yes,” like voters in California and Washington recently have for similar measures.
There are exemptions—like for antiques that are more than 100 years old—that make sense. Plus, the NRA opposes measures like this, saying a ban on the sale of ivory would unfairly “destroy the value of property held by countless gun owners.” Good. Fuck ’em.
(Affordable Housing Bond):
The Mercury Endorsement Strike Force had a rare moment of unanimity in hashing out our stance on Measure 26-179, which would charge the average homeowner about $75 a year for the next two decades in order to devote $258.4 million on much-needed affordable housing.
We were all primed for the cause, digging on the promise of progress in a rapidly shifting housing market that needs to add roughly 25,000 affordable units. But then we were reminded of the number that came with that promise: 1,300 units either built or refurbished within the next eight years.
To every one of us, it felt paltry given the magnitude of the need. It also felt like a lot of money. But we’re supporting the measure anyway.
As one Strike Force member put it, “It’s like I’m starving to death, I go to this restaurant, and it’s $10 for a corner of a piece of bread. Yeah, I guess I’ll pay it. I’m starving.”
But it’s more than just the city’s abject need that convinces us the housing bond is a wise investment.
The measure’s critics knock the high price city officials tend to gladly dole out for affordable housing, which can cost much more than comparable market rate units. Should the 1,300-unit figure stand (it’s a floor, not a ceiling), we’re talking nearly $200,000 per unit.
There are valid reasons for that high price tag, but also questions.
Part of the cost, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman says, comes from the city’s pledge to build high-quality units. “We are going to build these units to last 100 years,” he says. “They’re going to be energy efficient, water efficient.”
Officials have motivation to follow through: The properties created or fixed up by the bond money would be owned by the City of Portland as public amenities akin to libraries or schools. That’s a new step in Portland’s efforts to fight a housing boom that’s sending rents skyrocketing while wages sit stagnant. Affordable housing projects are typically owned by outside entities, and merely subsidized with public money.
The city’s also pledging to establish these affordable units throughout the city—including in the walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods that longtime Portlanders are finding themselves evicted from.
Most crucially, nearly half of the pledged units, 600, would be affordable to people making 30 percent of the area’s median family income or less. That’s $22,000 for a family of four—the lowest of low-income. We need this housing.
Yes, this money should absolutely be watched carefully. The housing bureau has a spotty track record under past leadership, frequently breaking promises for creating affordable units or keeping existing affordable units around. We’ll be concerned—as will the city’s budget office—with ensuring that this money delivers the result it promises.
But we’re also starving. While other cities have enacted bonds like this for years, there’s never been so much will—or so much need—here in Portland. Vote “yes.”
(Recreational Pot Sales Tax):
Even if Portland voters approve this city-wide 3 percent recreational pot tax, you’ll still be able to get legally high for cheaper than before.
The state legislature has approved knocking sales tax on recreational marijuana down from 25 percent to 17 percent, starting on New Years Day, and has allowed local jurisdictions to slap on their own tax, up to 3 percent. This tax—championed by City Commissioner Amanda Fritz—is just that. And if it passes? The 20 percent markup you see at the register is still 5 percent less than you’re paying for recreational pot now. Medical marijuana will remain untaxed.
The sales tax is expected to raise $3 million annually, and the proceeds will go to drug and alcohol education and treatment programs, training for cops and paramedics, and to support local small businesses (with an emphasis on those owned by women and minorities).
It’s one of the least burdensome taxes out there, and it’ll fund perfectly good causes. The more you smoke, the more you help.
(Appointed County Sheriff):
Multnomah County, you are bad at electing sheriffs.
Sheriff Dan Staton resigned this year, amid a roiling clusterfuck of accusations of incompetence. The guy elected before him lied about what he knew of former Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s sexual abuse of a minor.
So it’s easy to see the appeal in Measure 26-183, which would modify the county charter to put the hiring of the sheriff in the hands of the Multnomah County chair beginning in 2019.
The change would put Multnomah County at odds with most counties around the country, but it would also open up the sheriff position to nationwide candidates and make a rogue sheriff more quickly answerable for bad behavior.
That could be great, but give yourself another chance. The times we live in—with the Black Lives Matter movement at full steam, body cameras coming onto the scene, and a lot of soul-searching needed around the disparate impacts of law enforcement on minorities—make it more important than ever that citizens have a chance to hold their sheriff directly accountable.
So keep the system as is. Just don’t screw up again.
(County Campaign Finance Limits):
Measure 26-184 would be a bold experiment in how Multnomah County elections are financed. It also might not be completely legal.
If the measure passes, candidates running for county chair, county commissioner, auditor, sheriff, and district attorney could only take $500 from any one person, or $500 from any one political action committee—as opposed to the unlimited contributions they can accept today.
The measure would also limit independent expenditures in any county race to $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per political committee (but only if individuals donated no more than $500 apiece). New “small-donor committees” could kick in as much as they want, provided they don’t accept any individual donations over $100 per person.
Least controversial: The top five financiers of political advertisements would be disclosed in the ads themselves.
The premise is that candidates won’t suck up to a few fat-pocketed donors looking to sway public policy with the help of their checkbook, but instead would lavish attention on many more small donors. Proponents say this would help even the playing field for candidates who don’t cater to the wealthy.
We think that’s a good thing, and we urge you to approve the measure.
Critics, like Multnomah County Auditor Steve March, argue that campaign spending on county elections hasn’t historically been a problem and that the measure is misdirected.
But this measure is about more than Multnomah County. Without any campaign finance limits, Oregon truly is the wild west of election fundraising—the Center for Public Integrity ranks our political finance system 49th in the country, beating only Mississippi. Mississippi!
If passed, the measure will almost certainly be challenged in court—and its backers are hoping for just that. They’d like to take on a controversial 1997 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that blocked campaign finance limits in the state, and perhaps even overturn the disastrous 2010 Citizens United ruling by the United States Supreme Court that declared political spending by nonprofit corporations is free speech.
Reform is needed. Let’s give this a shot.