The way democracy is supposed to work.

By Evan Manvel of Portland, Oregon. Evan is a long-time alternative-transportation advocate and the legislative director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. In March, he contributed "The Bizarro support for the MegaBridge".

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about democracy, and how messed up the debate about health insurance reform is. I don’t envy our representatives in Congress who have to navigate the lies, demonization, and tens of millions of dollars in lobbying.

That’s part of why I’m involved in Oregon’s local and statewide politics. In contrast to members of Congress, our state representatives and senators are extremely accessible. And the ability of a handful of dedicated people to influence legislation is clear.

The best recent example is the battle over the Metolius bill in the Oregon legislature. While developers hired high-priced lobbyists, put together slick materials, and worked to lock up 30 Representatives against the bill, in the end Rep. Larry Galizio did what we all want our representatives to do: he took the time to listen to people and reconsider his stance on an issue. And now, generations of Oregon families will get to appreciate the incredible Metolius River basin.

Let’s recall: the Metolius bill stalled in the Oregon House despite the herculean efforts of Rep. Brian Clem, who could find30 votes of support but not an elusive 31st. A new bill emerged from the Senate by a single vote. On June 16, that bill failed in the House on a 30-29 vote (bills need 31 votes, not just a majority). A few days later, after hearing from Oregonians from around the state about the importance of the Metolius, Rep. Galizio changed his mind and became the 31st vote. The Governor signed the bill, and the Metolius River Basin will be protected for future generations to enjoy.

While bitter people have questioned Rep. Galizio’s integrity and created conspiracy theories, my guess is they don’t know him. Rep. Galizio, who is leaving the legislature at the end of the month, is simply an impressive, thoughtful, open-minded person who takes the time to listen to others. He’s a man who didn’t let his ego get in the way of learning more information, of humbly reconsidering his vote, and of standing up for what he thought was right.

That is how democracy should work. Legislators have the responsibility to listen, to learn, and to consider what legacy we want to leave our children. That is why OLCV works to engage citizens in the legislature, and why we helped citizens contact their legislators over 8,300 times last session. It’s hard to know which contact will make the difference, but what Rep. Galizio proved is that sometimes they make the difference between a dead bill and a provision enshrined in Oregon law.

Hats off to Larry, to all the citizens who took the time to call their various Senators and Representatives this past session, and to democracy. You cut through the cynicism and gave me hope. On behalf of the Metolius, thank you.

Comments

  • Jeff Bissonnette (unverified)
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    Indeed. How often do we say "they never listen"? When "they" do, we need to recognize the power of ordinary Oregonians to change the fate of key pieces of legislation. Having worked in a number of states where I've observed the exact opposite, I can say that Oregon not only "tolerates" grassroots participation but expects it. And it makes a difference.

  • Shasta (unverified)
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    Legislators have the responsibility to listen, to learn, and to consider what legacy we want to leave our children.

    We all share a responsibility to engage our representatives in thoughtful conversations. It is important for us to encourage our elected officials when they make good decisions and alert them when they have gone astray.

  • Old Ducker (unverified)
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    Where exactly in Oregon's Constitution does it say it establishes a democracy?

    Oh that's right, it doesn't.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "How often do we say "they never listen"?"

    The problem isn't confined to politicians not listening. It also includes a lack of people speaking out - not in the emotional and ill-informed way that has gotten so much publicity lately - but in a thoughtful, knowledgeable and responsible way. Instead, most people say "somebody (else) should do something about it or that."

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    You say that bills need 31 votes to pass out of the house and that 30-29 doesn't get it done. How is that democracy again?

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    When you get your way, you say 'democracy works'.

    When you don't get your way, it doesn't?

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    Evan and others, I share your thoughts on the openness of the Oregon political process to the views of individual citizens (much better than most states) and your generally warm feelings about how the Metolius decision played out. It's nice to win one once in awhile.

    But I have far too many days when I look at the mounting problems before us and fear that our current political system is just not up to making the decisions we need.

  • (Show?)

    George, 31 votes out of 60 means a majority of Representatives from all the districts across Oregon, even if people are absent or excused. Rep. Komp was out ill, I believe, hence only 59 votes on this bill. We could obviously debate whether the voting system should be the way it is, but that's why they have the 31 vote requirement.

    And I'm loathe to equate majority voting with democracy. Democracy is about so much more than simply voting - it's about protecting the rights of the minority, dialogue, public participation, deliberation, etc.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "after hearing from Oregonians from around the state about the importance of the Metolius, Rep. Galizio changed his mind and became the 31st vote."

    Puh-leeeeeeeeeze, Ted K's offer of a $100K/yr job didn't hurt either.

  • Richard (unverified)
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    Oh please is right. There's abundant lies, demonization, and tens of millions of dollars in lobbying flowing from the status quo agencies, organization and activists that dominate Oregon policy making.

    Yes the Metolius is a good example since the bill was passed with lied, demonization and lobbying millions to create the concocted notion the Metolius would have been lost.

    Go ahead and pat yourselves on the back as if you saved something from evil development but enough of the pretense of honesty and goodness.

    Your progressive Democrat domination of policy making in this state has spawned horric outcomes in every arena.

    The state is witnessing the effects of your phony goody two shoes progress.

  • (Show?)

    When my mom was about 6 years old she caught a steelhead trout in the Metolious that was bigger than she was. The pole actually snapped, taking all the play out of the rod, but she was able to land the fish, thanks to some good luck.

    The Metolious, while small, and hidden away from my everyday life, is a gem of a river, and one I always enjoy visiting on a quiet day, and I'm really glad it's being protected from the encroachment of big developers looking to turn every view, watershed and stretch of habitat we have left into the easement of a mini-mall or condo subdvision.

    My thanks - and my mom's thanks - goes out to all who helped protect the Metolious.

  • ws (unverified)
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    "The Metolious, while small, and hidden away from my everyday life, is a gem of a river, and one I always enjoy visiting on a quiet day, and I'm really glad it's being protected from the encroachment of big developers looking to turn every view, watershed and stretch of habitat we have left into the easement of a mini-mall or condo subdvision." mike

    Here, Here! For related reasons, I hope politicians with passion, conviction and intelligent minds will also prevail on behalf of people seeking to keep the Columbia Gorge national scenic area free of casinos providing gambling..a.k.a. 'gaming'.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    And I'm loathe to equate majority voting with democracy. Democracy is about so much more than simply voting - it's about protecting the rights of the minority, dialogue, public participation, deliberation, etc.

    I didn't equate majority rule with democracy, so that's neither here nor there. But without majority rule, you don't have democracy. In other words, it's necessary but not sufficient. All your other attributes are nice, but they are aimed at producing a fair system of majority rule.

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    Thanks, George. It was my lack of clarity in the post that confused "majority of those present" with "majority of House members" and I wanted to clear that up.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Evan Mandel has learned well from Orwell. The mind speak of today is that centralized control of all processes is "democracy".

    First, our political system is more aptly described as a representative republic, but I digress.

    When the centralized power brokers in control (the eco zealots and democrats) decided that they didn't like the way that the localized planning process was headed they decided to interfere and over ride the system. They were at their best (and by that I mean worst) in there wanton interference with the local process. They decided to use a here-to-for unused power to declare the Metolius of statewide priority. They then engaged in the worst part of partisan politics and arm twisting in this century at the state level. The party then came to head with the convenient vote change for jobs scenario reported earlier.

    No Mr. Manvel, democracy had absolutely nothing to do with this. Perhaps the better title (tieing into one of Carla's earlier posts) should be "The Way the Urban/Rural Divide Is Working in Oregon."

    that of course is my observations and beliefs.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)
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    The way democracy is supposed to work, but doesn't - the hijacked and broken example:

    Many motorists and a probably a majority of the population in general, possibly 55 percent or more, think bicyclists should be directly taxed, registered and/or licensed with a road tax to pay for bicycle infrastructure. Any mention of such a tax to legislators who are also bicyclists falls on deaf ears. Additionally, the hardcore bicycling community literally has harassed any legislator who brought the concept forward. Rarely if ever is the direct question asked in surveys from government sources to the general public. Alternative transport and bicycle activists, including representatives from groups like the BTA dominate local stacked deck citizen committees and keep the concept off the table. Instead, taxes are directed at motorists whom have little or no direct representation on those same citizen committees thereby creating a “taxation without representation” scenario. Any public discussion is stifled and the public in general is denied a chance to weigh in and vote on the subject. Democracy is trumped and hijacked by the special interests who believe in social engineering, controlling and dictating public policy. Is this democracy and representative government - NOT AT ALL!

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    Gosh Terry, everytime you post that I say "Bring it On!" Let's start at $1 per pound per vehicle per year, OK? We can raise it at the top end where all the road damage is done later.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)
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    There is already plenty of money from motorist paid taxes and fees in the conduit to make road improvements and repair road damage from the motorists themselves. The one exception is that no contributions are being made from transit ridership fares for the heavy damage two-axle transit busses do to the roads. The real problem is that a great quantity of the dollars the Feds collect through motorist paid fuel taxes is siphoned off from roadway funding at the behest of some this state’s political social engineers, and returned to Oregon to pay for alternative forms of transportation that are not at all financially self-sustainable. Transit projects such as light rail and streetcars create the biggest dollar drains. Additionally local gas tax revenues which constitutionally should be paying for road projects are also often siphoned off for projects disguised as road projects, and/or projects that contain components that are not reality actually road projects. This includes hiding and burying the actual costs of providing bicycle infrastructure when it is coupled with a roadway project.

    In other words: motorists are already paying their fair share of transportation infrastructure costs. Bicyclists on the other hand are not - directly paying nothing at all while only spewing lip service excuses. The bottom line is that bicycle infrastructure needs to be funded by bicyclists – not from other sources.

  • Wrench Monkey (unverified)
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    Richard said, "Your progressive Democrat domination of policy making in this state has spawned horric outcomes in every arena."

    This is how the Reich controls the dialogue. Whatever position the DP takes, no matter how obsequious to corporate power, it becomes the new "far-left" position, and the dialogue proceeds to the right.

    Richard: THE DP IS NOT PROGRESSIVE, even if it is slightly to the left of the RP.

    <h2>In a real democracy, something for which the RP, DP, and most other parties in America have contempt, decisions are made by all who have a stake in the policy being negotiated, and representatives are chosen according to how well they represent the interests of the public.</h2>
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