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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Greens to Eileen Brady and Jefferson Smith: A Pox on Both Your Houses!

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Remember my column last week on how internal tensions over mayoral picks were roiling the Portland Green Party—with Jefferson Smith backers hoping to get the party to redo a consensus vote that ranked him third behind Eileen Brady (no. 2) and Cameron Whitten (no. 1) on the party's endorsement list?

The party got together last night and apparently sent a fairly blunt message: A pox on both your houses—let's stop this infighting.

In another consensus vote, members decided to withdraw endorsements for both Brady and Smith, leaving Whitten, the young activist with Occupy ties, as their only preferred candidate. Whitten announced the news in a press release, and I've since confirmed the decision with other Green Party members. Here's how Whitten cast it:

The Portland Green Party convened a meeting last night, to officially strip their endorsements of Mayoral candidates Eileen Brady and Jefferson Smith for the May 15th Primary. They maintained their endorsement of Cameron Whitten for Mayor of Portland. The decision was unanimous.

The re-vote came after a long time of speculation, with Smith supporters attempting to pressure the local chapter nominate the State Representative over New Seasons co-founder Eileen Brady.

Apparently, the Green Party did not react positively to politics as usual, which led the chapter to avoid the divisive political manipulations altogether by recalling both of their nominations.

Seth Woolley, the activist who's been filing tax and election complaints over Charlie Hales' awkward decision to treat himself like a Washington taxpayer (saving thousands in income taxes) while still voting in Oregon elections, was facilitating last night's meeting. He said he found it puzzling that everyone was up in arms over second- and third-place rankings that were decided, in actuality, by just one vote. That's how thin the margin between Brady and Smith was.

"That one vote was throwing everybody into infighting," Woolley says. "Let's let the squabbling fall by the wayside."

Woolley (who's prepared a very compelling chart comparing the big three candidates) said both Smith and Brady, in some ways, were equally disappointingproblematic. Members fretted Smith would be softer on police accountability and on using the city's charter as a way to enforce tighter environmental standards for things like air quality, and some were upset he wouldn't embrace ranked-choice voting. On the other hand, no one liked Brady's eager-to-clear-the-camps stance on Occupy Portland, nor did they think she'd fight as hard as she could on coal exports.

Says Woolley: "Everyone was okay with dropping them both."

Update 2:20 PM: Green Party executive director Jorden Leonard, a Brady supporter, says he and some other party members were left off the invitation for the meeting and, well, didn't attend. Leonard doesn't personally agree with the decision and says he contemplated lodging a formal objection. But it's time to circle the wagons—those who did make it to the meeting decided in good faith, he says—and let the kerfuffle drop.

Leonard also said he doesn't see this as a "slap" to the two campaigns and said the party "appreciates" the campaigns' willingness to talk about environmental and grass-roots issues that might otherwise be overlooked.

"It's more important to come together and let the decision stand," he told me.

Update 2:55 PM: Here's the very lengthy press release the party just posted on its website by way of explaining the turmoil and the back-and-forth. I suspect Smith's campaign will take umbrage with the Greens' parsing of his stance on the Columbia River Crossing, among other points. Brady has also quibbled with the characterization of her stance on Occupy.

Yesterday, the Portland Green Party voted unanimously to drop their support for local mayoral candidates Eileen Brady and Jefferson Smith, leaving support only their original front-runner, Cameron Whitten. Participating members felt that both major candidates failed to live up to the four pillars of the Portland Greens: conservation, social justice, grassroots democracy, and peace and nonviolence.

The chief environmental concern with both candidates is that they are both pro-Columbia River Crossing
— an unnecessary, wasteful, and corrupt project that is based on false projections of future traffic and false projections of future fuel prices — and potentially costing us $10 billion. This is all the more offensive in light of other unfunded mandates, such as Portland's 2007 Peak Oil Task Force report (whose recommendations were approved in Resolution 36488). Aside from its strong recommendations on things like local food production and moving employment to the neighborhood level, the report also found that “even the most optimistic projections [for Peak Oil] offer little time to adapt,” and warned against “vast public and private infrastructure built in anticipation of inexpensive fossil fuels for decades to come,” (page 8). The Task Force declared that the city should “Design infrastructure to promote transportation options and facilitate efficient movement of freight, and prevent infrastructure investments that would not be prudent given fuel shortages and higher prices,” (page 38, emphasis added).

Despite occasional pandering, both Brady and Smith ultimately support the project. Brady sometimes speaks of a “slimmed down” project, while Smith speaks vaguely of a “Plan B”. Neither candidate is willing to speak out unequivocally against the project. We find this unacceptable. The Portland Greens believe that the only viable option is a retrofitted bridge funded by congestion tolling. We do not agree that installing a light-rail requires the complete overhaul of our interstate highway system. We do not agree that developers get to decide where we spend our money, and to increase car traffic when DEQ reports that Portland already has levels of Benzene (much of it released from diesel fuel) that are 40 times higher than safe levels. It is time to get cars off the road — and confront the developers who rationalize us further into an unlivable future.

Vague language gets us nowhere. Vacillating gets us nowhere. We have listened to both candidates and their supporters tie themselves in knots explaining how they might be secretly against the CRC. This is not enough. “When the logic of history hungers for bread, and we hand out a stone, we are at pains to describe how much the stone resembles bread.”

Participating members had other strong concerns with the candidates individually. These are listed below.

Eileen Brady

Brady has insisted on brandishing her status as the second choice candidate of the Portland Greens. This is misleading. Cameron Whitten earned our unanimous support —both Eileen and Jefferson were distant seconds—and only separated by 1 vote. Brady's continual use of the Green Party name was especially troubling to members who reached out to her to try and strengthen her environmental platform. It was disappointing to us that she would choose to align herself in name only, rather than working with us to craft stronger environmental policies.

It is an especially troubling sign when a former high-level official from EcoTrust has trouble opposing coal exports, and chooses instead to suggest “mitigation." Climate change is already here, and the past few years have proven that it is happening much faster than anyone expected. No one is going to re-freeze the arctic for us, or de-acidify the oceans, or replant our old-growth forests. If you want to mitigate coal, you have to solve the real problem. Leave it in the ground. Stop blowing up mountains. Stop polluting our water and our air. And don't give a pass to people that do—close our roads to them, close our rail-lines to them, and close our rivers to them. Show them our climate change legislation, and tell them they are part of the problem.

The utter failure to do any of these things was a major factor that lead to our decision to withdraw support from Brady. Our biggest concern, however, was with Brady's total disregard for our First Amendment rights. Eileen is the only candidate who said she would have cleared the Occupy Portland camps in the first week. When asked about the eviction of the camps, Brady responded “we could see the best of Portland that day”.

Later, when asked by Occupy Portland activists if she would arrest them for blocking coal trains, Eileen said, “Yes! And isn't that the point?” A spokesperson for Eileen has since argued that she adopts the “Thoreau theory” of civil disobedience. Here is Thoreau, speaking for himself: "Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them [unjust laws]... But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil... Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?" In this and many other passages, Thoreau makes it very clear that the goal of civil disobedience is to win alliances from everyone—including state officials (in his narrative, the tax collector). Thoreau would not support Gandhi getting shot. Neither would Gandhi. And no one in their right mind thinks that all protesters are some cult of masochists and martyrs.

This incoherent position on peace and nonviolence also undercuts Eileen's brand of environmentalism, which is, to put it lightly, not especially informed on issues of social justice. For the Portland Green Party, this is not acceptable. We take strong exception to Brady's equivocations on coal exports, and find it equally unacceptable that she does not respect the Constitutional right to free speech and assembly. As long as she maintains these positions, we cannot support her candidacy.

Jefferson Smith

There are three major concerns we have with Jefferson Smith. The first and most paramount is that he does not support Portland's independent Charter Review Commission, a citizen-run process that has the power to refer laws directly to the people of Portland. Our previous Mayor Tom Potter created the Commission in 2007 to address the lack of meaningful citizen participation in city government. Mayor Sam Adams, however, chose to dissolve the commission in February of this year—immediately after it started making recommendations to stop police brutality. Smith, a self-proclaimed champion of grassroots democracy, says he “has questions” about the commission and its process. We think a Harvard-trained lawyer shouldn't have trouble understanding a three-page city resolution (Res. 36477), or the three page explanatory statement that accompanied it in Measure 26-89 during the Special Election of May 2007—an election that saw 75,000 people vote in favor of the Commission, and approve it by an overwhelming 75% majority. This is what democracy looks like. If Smith still has questions, we think he would do well to start asking them.

Two related issues have us worried about Smith, and particularly his grassroots credibility. The first is that he does not support voting method reform, such as Ranked Choice Voting (also under consideration by the Charter Review Commission before it got axed), or even District Elections. Both would dramatically reduce the cost of running for office, thus reducing the influence of money in local politics and encouraging more grassroots organizers to run for office. It is baffling that such a vocal advocate for publicly financed elections would oppose such basic common-sense reforms.

Our last major concern with Smith is his alignment with the Portland Police Bureau. Smith is the only candidate endorsed by the police union, and also, coincidentally, the only candidate who says he wants a policy of non-transparency on Grand Jury hearings that investigate the police. Smith says he would only allow transparency on a case-by-case basis. He argues that a default policy of transparency could discourage witnesses from testifying, because they may be intimidated by the threat of retribution—from none other than the police! This is about secrecy—preventing the public from knowing the abuses of its own police bureau. A smarter policy—and the one adopted by every other major candidate—is to support transparency as the default policy except in those cases where witnesses require secrecy in order to come forward and give testimony. This is the way to put adequate pressure on the police to obey the law, and to send the message that we will not tolerate the abuse of power. Our twin pillars of social justice and peace and nonviolence make this a hard sticking point.

For a candidate that claims to be a champion of grassroots democracy, we cannot understand Smith's opposition to direct democracy through the charter review commission, or to basic election method reforms such as Ranked Choice Voting. The special connection between the Charter Review Commission and police accountability, combined with Smith's positions on both, make us totally unable to support his candidacy. We sincerely hope this can change.

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