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.