By Jeff Cogen of Portland, Oregon. Jeff has been an attorney, a co-founder of the Portland Pretzel Co., president of Hands on Portland, and an aide to County Chair Bev Stein and City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
When my wife Lisa and I moved to Portland 13 years ago, we were drawn by the city’s optimism and strong sense of community. The people here believed they had an important role to play in shaping government and helping it reach solutions to the city’s problems. And they believed that those solutions would be based on their own goals and values.
This attitude was no doubt based on Portland’s well-known successes in the 70s: revitalizing our downtown, turning freeways into parks, and laying the groundwork for a regional light-rail system, to name a few. Lately, though, it seems that we have been more inclined to reflect on these past glories than to develop a fresh vision for the years ahead. We can’t rest on our laurels if we want Multnomah County to remain a wonderful place to live.
The County faces new and daunting challenges that require strong leadership. Too many people have no access to quality health care; too many children lack the support they need to thrive; our mental-health system is a shambles; and criminals are released every day without having served time for their crimes, while the County’s new $60 million jail sits empty. The Wapato prison is a monument to government incompetence -- the kind of foolishness that undermines people’s trust in their elected leaders.
I’m running for Multnomah County Commissioner because we need a credible, efficient, and accountable local government. When government is working as it should, it reflects the values of the people it serves, and it works hard to put those values into action. Only when the County Commission restores that social contract will we be able to reengage our community in the task of working together to tackle our problems.
I envision a County Commission that is willing to make fundamental changes to the way it operates in order to address our challenges. Sometimes this means taking a chance on new ideas. One example is the Children’s Investment Fund, which voters supported because we offered a new way of doing business: by law, we can only fund programs that are proven by research to work, and we limit our administrative expenses to 5 percent. Fully 95 percent of the fund goes directly to programs serving kids.
Since government doesn’t have the resources to meet all of its goals, we must be more creative in working with available resources. In my work for City Commissioner Saltzman, I’m leading an effort to make Portland the first city to get all the electricity used by City government from wind power. The City spends $14 million a year on “dirty” power that comes from coal-burning plants and hydroelectric facilities that are killing salmon. Under our plan, we’ll contract with a local wind-energy company to generate the City’s power on wind farms in eastern Oregon.
A transition to wind energy will not only brand Portland as a leader in the emerging green economy, but it will also stimulate economic development, create jobs and revenue that will help bridge the urban/rural divide, and help us meet our environmental goals. Wind energy won’t cost us any more than we’re currently paying -- it might even save us money. I’m eager to bring this kind of vision to the County, and to take the lead on projects that are both ambitious and fiscally prudent.
I would also like to see open-source software installed on every computer in every County office. Multnomah County currently spends almost $3 million a year in licensing payments to Microsoft. As my 7-year-old son Alex recently told me, “Bill Gates already has enough money.” Alex may be Oregon’s youngest open-source advocate.
Multnomah County needs a new generation of leadership -- leaders with fresh ideas, vision, and the skills and experience to get real results. That’s the kind of leadership I’ll bring to the County Commission. Thank you for your interest in my thoughts -- and now I look forward to hearing yours (either here in the comments or to email@example.com.)
And by the way, I’d love to see you at my official campaign launch party this Thursday at the Mississippi Ballroom (833 North Shaver Street). The party will run from 5:30 to 7:30. Please join us - no need to RSVP, just show up!