Let the People Vote

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 @ 12:50PM

February 2014 ~ article by Karen Bowerman, City Councilor, City of Lake Oswego
View article in The Northwest Connection

While deciding on a timely topic for this article, I celebrated another birthday which for me is a time for guilt-free indulgence in quietly thinking new things and thinking old things differently. I wondered what happened on my birthdate in 1776, an important year in our country’s history, and how that could spark reflection today. Alas! Thomas Paine had just published Common Sense anonymously lest it be considered treason. The 48-page pamphlet explained the advantages of immediate independence from Britain.

Copies sold like wildfire (it was incendiary!) and it quickly reached most of the 2.5 million colonists — the largest circulation of any book in American history relative to the population at the time. Washington read it to his troops and activists read it aloud in taverns. What made Paine’s pamphlet so powerful? It was written in clear language. It was not targeted to the elite but to everyday citizens. It explained that elections would be held because not everyone could gather in one place to make the laws. It set up a Continental Charter and outlined a Continental Conference. The focus: “We the People.”

I began thinking about how Common Sense would be written today, since we are independent from Britain. How would Thomas Paine today unite average citizens and true political leaders? And then, as Lake Oswego City Councilor, I received the answer serendipitously in my inbox tonight from an attentive resident:

“Isn’t it nice how we taxpayers end up directly and/or indirectly, funding studies, projects and developments on which we never get to vote? Obviously we are just not smart enough to know what’s good for us, even though we are smart enough to earn the money the Masterminds spend for us and service the debts they incur for us.” ~Mike Holm

How should citizens and true political leaders be united? In part, it should be from citizen vote on additional debt, citizen vote on new urban renewal districts and citizen vote on game-changing issues such as light rail or tolling the I-5 Bridge to divert as many as 40,000 cars/day to I-205. Let the people vote. Elected officials must not assume that they alone are empowered to decide how to spend the people’s money because the people know too little about spending what they have earned through hard work.

Examples of the above abound. In Lake Oswego, citizen vote authorized $5 million indebtedness, but not the additional $17.4 million of indebtedness needed in order to complete the $26.9 million Boone’s Ferry one-half mile project in just one phase. In Clackamas County, the County Commission voted down 3-2 a ballot measure asking if tolling were implemented on the I-5 bridge, should Clackamas County seek the ability to impose tolls on I-205 because of the quantity of traffic otherwise diverted to I-205. These are major issues involving millions of taxpayer dollars. Let the people vote!

The message to citizens is to take care in electing true political leaders who understand and appreciate the will of the voters, and commit the taxpayer’s money carefully. Evaluate not just their words, but their actions and their voting record. When their actions and voting record belie their words, evaluate why. Is there fear that “We the People” see things differently? Remember that Thomas Paine, although just a corset maker in his teens, was quite aware that Britain ruled the colonies without consideration of the best interest of the colonists, and therein lay the power of the people in turning to an American revolution.

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