Last night, at the Waypost, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters held a forum called “Engaging priorities and engaging pints” to “break down the Oregon Conservation Networks priorities and other important issues in the 2013 legislature.” It was a pretty standard affair with lots of policy talk except for two events that stood out.
The first came in Doug Moore’s introductory remarks as he addressed the obvious energy that was floating around the largest looming environmental disaster in the state right now, the CRC. In fact, OLCV and other local environmental organizations took some pretty serious heat earlier in the day from Jonathan Maus’ powerful article, “As CRC stumbles forward, major advocacy groups sit on the sidelines”. Regardless, Doug indicated that OLCV was not particularly interested in discussing the CRC and briefly described their strategy on the issue (video 1 & 2):
I’m willing to speak truth to power […] You have to judge whether fighting will help or hurt your community and reduce your ability to get things done. In this instance, we didn’t have the power to stop the CRC. And I know that hurts to hear. And it’s hard to hear. But we have to be honest with ourselves. Investing all of our political capital, only to fail, when we have other excellent priorities, things to accomplish, and legislation to pass, wasn’t, in our opinion, the best thing for us to do at this point. There’s a time and a place to continue to discuss the CRC […] and there are going to be more opportunities to oppose the bridge, but tonight’s forum is not the place for that.
And, faithful to Moore’s wishes, no one mentioned the CRC throughout the night. No one even had the temerity to mention that the CRC is still to be debated in the Senate and there is a perfectly reasonable chance, given the opposition that has emerged, that some senators might calculate a serious political cost to voting for the CRC. The way Moore introduced the CRC, I received an impression that the political process to come is a mere formality. If this is an admission of strategic, insider information, this is a huge problem for our democracy. Though, after the Nike Tax Deal, now known to have been based on lies, it’s painfully obvious that whatever this political machine decides it wants, it’s going to get any way it can, and you’d better get out of the way. Legislators and non-profits appear to be getting the memo.
It is further mystifying to hear the assertion that the “OLCV is not partisan” and yet the refusal to act against this project is due to what is considered to be a situation of insurmountable political power. Doesn’t the OLCV exist precisely to create a voting bloc that is strong enough to advocate for environmental policy that can penetrate partisan politicking? If the OLCV rationalizes the choice of not pursuing opposition to the CRC on the idea that political capital isn’t available, where exactly is the line then of partisanship? Here we have OLCV agenda dictated by the partisan pressures of the very legislators they are supposed to ‘hold accountable’.
When the political pressures of strong industry lobbies and partisan capitulation feed back to the organizations that supposedly exist to hold legislators accountable to this power and molds their agenda and messaging, one begins to wonder how ‘accountability’ is even coming in play. Instead one has to begin to consider if such an organization like the OLCV functions largely to facilitate the appropriation of ‘green’ political identity for partisans in elected office. Instances like this demand a reflection for such organizations and its subscribers on what intentions are being fulfilled and what relationships of power are taking place.
Maybe I’m the only one having these thoughts.
Near the end of the night, the CRC re-entered the forbidden space in a different way; through the mock celebration of a person who had recently had the opportunity to vote on the project. This person is Representative Jules Bailey. He operates in one of the safest districts in Oregon to be an environmentalist. Yet, with literally no foreseeable electoral cost for voting No, he voted Yes on the CRC. At least one of his constituents was not impressed by this course of action. To see what transpired, please watch the embedded video.
I just saw the Mercury article where Jules refers to the antics as “grandstanding”. As you can well see in the video, there was no shortage of Jules Bailey grandstanding about carbon reduction knowing full well that he just voted to increase carbon emissions in and near his own district (while simultaneously voting to create more sprawl and facilitate the release of toxics that will cause harm to his most vulnerable constituents). Jules also didn’t mention to the Merc that, unlike Jackie Dingfelder who hung around for a long time after, he bolted from the Waypost almost immediately after the event ended. And in an act befitting the good judgment Jules has been showing lately, he went home and defriended Hart Noecker and Seth Woolley on Facebook after they tagged him in some photos lamenting the fact that he’d left his faux award at the Waypost.
Jules’ constituents (myself included) aren’t going to forget about the CRC and Nike tax-cut votes. And we certainly aren’t going to forget the way that Jules didn’t just reluctantly vote for these measures, but actively advocated for them when he didn’t have to. We don’t like environmental issues of huge significance being reduced to the vulgar process of horse trading. We want a representative who is an environmentalist in a very moral sense so that we have a voice we need in the legislature to communicate the seriousness of climate change and environmental degradation instead of simply looking for the paths of least resistance.
As far as I’m concerned, District 42 is no longer safe in either an electoral or a real sense. I don’t think many people will be surprised to find that there’s more than a handful of people who feel the same way.
Here’s what Senator Jackie Dingfelder had to say about the CRC as of today (comments section):
“Regarding my concerns about this project, the remaining ones for me are the unmitigated potential air quality and traffic impacts to my district, NE/SE Portland especially on increased traffic on I-205 & I-84 and local arterials. In addition, I’m concerned about the funding mechanism which is to utilize existing ODOT reserves to pay off bonds for the bridge. Since there is no new revenue source associate with this bill, we may eventually be deferring much needed improvement projects that are already on the STP.”