Cops, Firefighters, Teachers, Public Employees... Lend Me Your Ears

Paul Evans

Get real. PERS is neither the enemy, nor in truth a bad policy. Our economy has changed and the 21st Century Republicans must make war against PERS and the public sector because the rising tides promised so many times have yet to be realized by a less than ideal global marketplace that plays to the lowest, not highest, common denominators.

Cops, Firefighters, Teachers – Public Employees All – Lend Me Your Ears

I come not to praise SB 822, but to bury it – and the false dilemma born unto Ballot Measure 5 (and its progeny – BM 47/50) – that government should be managed “like a business” and that corruption, inefficiencies, and misplaced priorities are the cause for our economic challenges.

At great sacrifice, we have settled (or should have) the PERS debate this Legislative Session. We should move forward, not backward.

PERS should not be the "poster-child" for bad government, failing policy, or any other ideological purposes - it was put into place for a purpose. It can (and has many times) been adjusted. And we have balanced the budget on the backs of our public employees long enough...

Now is the time for all of us to come together in solidarity.

Each, every person that receives a paycheck from a public body in Oregon is part of a team: a team fielded to guarantee opportunity, provide a safe environment, protect our basic freedoms, and to preserve a future - even as we make a living in the present.

With the exception of the top 1% of wealthy Oregonians, we rely upon effective public services so often, we often forget. Private enterprise depends upon consistent, fair, and sustained services - and we have kept silent about the hidden subsidies long enough.

Capped property taxes, the lack of a sales tax, and special exemptions throughout the tax code favoring particular interests - over other interests - have held our potential hostage.

Since Ballot Measure 5 the Republican Party in Oregon has become primarily a Legislative Party – unable, unwilling to win statewide elections because of a set of choices. This is not by accident, the vested interests know it is far easier to snipe at policies than to govern and lead.

First, many 21st Century Republicans believe that government is inherently bad, something that exists because of circumstance, a function that in nearly all cases can be best managed the same way private business is managed (except of course, when the structural forces involved potentially harm would-be voters in their districts).

Second, many 21st Century Republicans believe that PERS is the Holy Grail of the Oregon Democratic Party, that destruction of said system would strike a blow to the seeming immortality of Democratic electoral power – potentially making statewide office-seeking possible again.

Third, many 21st Century Republicans believe – because of previous successes – that division among public employees is the best option for success. Though counterintuitive, there is a clear division of public safety and public service employees – in terms of voting behaviors. God, guns, and the rhetoric of the Free Market have been helpful in keeping Democrats (and those that are benefitted most from Democratic policies) functionally impotent in mobilizing the latent power of the public sector.

Fourth, many 21st Century Republicans believe – because of previous successes – that forcing Democrats to make cuts will engender a return to the majority. It is critical that people understand how the Republican Party managed state debt during their tenure at the helm of the Oregon House and Senate: certificates of participation (another type of credit card style debt), tax increases (on sin taxes), and program cuts for the working poor.

Finally, many 21st Century Republicans believe that George W. Bush is a lesson in success. Whatever most believe about the explosion in government debt, the wars, and the proven incompetence of his administration – they learned that facts no longer matter… All it takes in politics today is an ability to believe what you must believe in order to win the day (regardless of the rationality – or truthfulness).

Truth be told, I consider many of the individuals serving under the Republican Party banner as friends - people are people, and experience teaches to separate the policy from the person; many of us share a common rural background. We disagree upon principle, and philosophy.

Oregon Republicans are meeting with the Governor at Mahonia Hall tomorrow to continue to try and force cuts to PERS: it is a two-fer for them: 1) push the public employees again (which makes many non-public employees feel a little better – think schadenfreude); and 2) it compels additional cuts to other state programming thereby weakening the ability of government to meet expectations.

Smaller government (especially the type of smaller government resulting from last minute cuts and/or across-the-board reductions) has a smaller range of motion: it is both means and ends for failure. Additional attacks upon PERS will help disincentivize public service and weaken the morale throughout the ranks.

We must help our leaders realize the present and future value of a secure public retirement system.

Here’s the deal: The strategy of the Republican Party – since Ronald W. Reagan has been to cut government and strengthen the private sector. This strategy empowers a downward spiral of expectations and services; it provides greater ability for the private sector to define the workplace; and it provides engaging theater for all to watch – as the rules of profitability within an emergent global economy take root.

Caesar and his followers may or may not have been a good thing for Rome. We do not know much more about the facts of that chapter of history than what the scholars (many of which had alliances) passed onto us.

What we do know is this: Caesar appeared to be popular enough that the only way for his enemies to defeat him – was to use intrigue, treachery, and his own “friends” against themselves.

The Democratic Party remains an amalgamation of aspirations, dreamers, and populists. And as a member, I can say that I (like Will Rogers before me) would probably not be a Democrat except when I consider all other alternatives.

I'm a Harry Truman Democrat: a rural Democrat in a mostly urban party. Fortunately, our party is a "big enough tent" that I can play at least a small role in moving ideas forward. For in the end, all Democrats share a belief in the value (if not the perfection) of a functional government.

21st Century Democrats believe that all Oregonians are worthy of the opportunities, skills, and training required to make a better life, if they are willing to work to make it so. And in most cases, these tools must be provided by the public sector because the private sector sees little, or no profit in the offering.

21st Century Democrats believe that the men and women protecting our streets, responding to crisis, maintaining our forests and waterways, and keeping our transportation networks functional warrant a fair salary, full value of their pensions (legally negotiated), and healthcare sufficient to care for their families.

It takes public resources to do these things, and it is about time we stop pretending otherwise.

It is time we stop allowing ideological proposals sustained through false dilemmas (and inaccurate facts) to be taken seriously.

It is time we stop allowing the over-publicized failings of a few to cast a shadow over the many; the failings of public employees are not symbolic of inherent corruption but rather easier pickings (because of public workplace laws) for invested narrators to share.

And it is time we stop rewarding the elected representatives and senators that are open and transparent about their disdain for the public sector (and the employees that spend their working careers in service to our Oregon) with added time in elective office.

Get real. PERS is neither the enemy, nor in truth a bad policy. Our economy has changed and the 21st Century Republicans must make war against PERS and the public sector because the rising tides promised so many times have yet to be realized by a less than ideal global marketplace that plays to the lowest, not highest, common denominators.

Demand a balanced approach to the endgame budget decisions. Demand accountability from the men and women promising efficient government: history is not so kind to societies that opt for efficiencies over effectiveness.

Demand a 21st Century government for a 21st Century Oregon – paid for in a progressive manner reflecting the dynamics of modernity.

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