Election thoughts: Hales, Fritz, bad news for the CRC, and more

Election thoughts: Hales, Fritz, bad news for the CRC, and more

Active Transportation Debate at PSU-5

Charlie Hales is promising to “minimize
the drama and maximize the results.”
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

After last night, Portland’s City Council has two fresh faces and the White House retains a familiar one. Both our mayoral race and the race for President were never really in doubt as Charlie Hales easily beat Jefferson Smith and Barack Obama handily rolled to victory over Mitt Romney. But there were other results of major consequence in our city, region and our state.

At the top of the ticket, the night belonged to President Obama. He delivered a stirring acceptance speech that many said was one of his best ever (several of my friends on Twitter admitted to tearing up). The big line from his speech that stood out from me is when he warned of the, “destructive power of a warming planet.”

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
— President Barack Obama

It’s obviously unclear what Obama’s re-election means for bicycling in America. In 2008, when he campaigned here, he noted Portland’s bike lanes and said the nation should copy our example; but his administration ended up passing a transportation bill many in the bike world find abhorrent. The bright spot of Obama’s first term has been his US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. LaHood has said he’s set to retire and there’s been some chatter on Twitter this morning (most notably from League of American Bicyclists Director Andy Clarke) urging him to stay. If LaHood does go, some folks would love to see NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan as a possible replacement. Sadik-Khan’s current boss, Michael Bloomberg is nearing the end of his term, so Sadik-Khan will be looking for a new gig soon.

Hales taking the mayor’s race wasn’t a big surprise. Smith was never able to get out in front if the overwhelming negatives that his campaign ran into. In his acceptance speech, Hales promised he’d “refocus on basic services” and that he’d “minimize the drama and maximize the results.” These words are clearly intended to draw a contrast to the governing style of current mayor Sam Adams.

With Hales, we’ve got someone who clearly understands how bicycling should fit into the transportation system (one of his biggest supporters is Mia Birk); but big questions remain about whether or not he’ll be able to move the needle of the narrative. Bicycling has weathered the perfect storm of negative momentum since Adams’ big scandal when he took office in 2008. Will Hales be able to turn things around? So far, his campaign hasn’t provided any reasons for optimism in my opinion. If you are happy with the status quo and incremental change, Hales will certainly pilot us toward that; but if true transportation reform is your hope (as it is mine), it remains to be seen if Hales can deliver.

There’s also the question of what Hales will do with the various bureaus. He got into a bit of hot water during the campaign by hinting that he’d fire current PBOT Director (and former Adams Chief of Staff) Tom Miller if he won. Hales later tried to soften his stance on Miller; but he does say he’ll take all bureaus under his wing for the first three months to make an assessment. Whether Miller stays on or not, it’s not likely that the mayor will continue to have PBOT in his portfolio. Adams loved transportation as an issue and had it as a commissioner; but historically it’s considered to be too big and controversial for the mayor to handle.

Rob Sadowsky, the Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance says Hales is “someone who gets what we do.” “We have a biking mayor in Charlie Hales.. He understands and shares BTA’s vision,” Sadowsky shared with me this morning.

Joining Hales on Council will be another new face, Steve Novick. Novick, who took over Randy Leonard’s seat uncontested, is still somewhat of a mystery to me; but he was endorsed by the Bike Walk Vote PAC and I expect he’ll understand bicycling.

Amanda Fritz-1.jpg

Fritz in 2008.

Amanda Fritz was a big winner last night, fending off a challenge by state legislator Mary Nolan. Fritz has shown that she’s an independent, steady voter who sweats the details. She isn’t likely to launch big initiatives herself, and she has said some suspect things about bicycling; but as a leader who is all about common sense and fiscal responsibility, it seems she’ll be supportive of bicycling.

Down in Eugene, U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio once again put down a challenge by pesky Tea Party Republican Art Robinson.

Also down in Eugene, local bike advocates are celebrating the passage of a street repair tax. The Register-Guard reports that the $43 million bond measure will finance 76 street repair projects and “several bicycle and pedestrian improvements” between 2014 and 2018. I wish Portland was bold enough to have put a similar measure on our ballot. It’s really unfortunate that we’ve been too shy and too bogged down in silly “cars vs. bikes” debates to ask citizens to pony up for transportation.

In Wilsonville, at least one citizen activist is very pleased with how their election went. Patrick Croasdaile (who has written several articles for BikePortland) called the re-election of Mayor Tim Knapp and two new, bike-friendly city councilors a “watershed” moment for the city and said the “Active transportation influence is retained and strengthened in Wilsonville.”

The big news in the Oregon legislature last night was that the House is no longer deadlocked at a 30-30 Democrat-Republican split. Thanks to several victories, Democrats now enjoy a 34-26 advantage in the House. They’ve also maintained a majority in the Senate. That should bode well for transportation reform at the state level.

“The fact that the Democrats control both the House and the Senate… means that it may be easier to move our legislative priorities forward in the House,” says Sadowsky.

Up in Clark County, Washington, the big storyline emerging after last night is that the defeat of Proposition 1 — a tiny tax increase sought by C-Tran to subsidize ongoing operational costs of light rail into Clark County via the new I-5 bridge — was rejected by voters. Prop 1 was seen by many in Southwest Washington as a referendum on the Columbia River Crossing project and it’s failure is very bad news for that project.

According to economist Joe Cortright, without Prop 1, federal funding for the CRC is now in serious jeapordy because the feds have said they won’t fund any transit projects without assured local funding for operations. And, given that light rail has been pegged as a must-have from the Oregon-side of the CRC project, we now stand at an impasse that might be insurmountable.

“CRC doesn’t have a plan “B”,” Cortright shared with me before the election last night, “This election has been on the critical path for the CRC for the past several years. If they lose on Proposition 1, they have to come up with a new source of operating money – and get voter approval for that new plan.”

Washington did however, pass marijuana legalization and marriage equality laws. That led one source to quip last night, “Oregonians may want to move to Washington State to take advantage of the legal marijuana and the marriage equality. But they won’t be able to get there on C-Tran.”

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