Jefferson Smith: Environmental Leadership with Results

Jonathan Poisner

A disclaimer: Although I served as the Executive Director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters from 1997-2009, I am speaking solely as an individual. To-date, OLCV has made no endorsement in the Portland Mayor’s race and I have no ongoing affiliation with OLCV beyond being an enthusiastic donor.

I’ve dedicated much of my career to protecting people from unsafe pollution, while ensuring that we meet our responsibility to be good stewards of our natural legacy for future generations.

I have seen and worked with hundreds of candidates and elected officials. Of those hundreds, Jefferson Smith sticks out as one of the most impressive.

I first met Jefferson in 2001 when he was in the process of founding the Bus Project. His vision: get thousands of young people involved in politics while helping elect progressive majorities to the Legislature.

I thought it was a grandiose vision and his plans for pulling it off weren’t realistic.

Not only did he prove me wrong and then some, but he proved me wrong by taking feedback from myself and others to adapt his original plans. He made the Bus Project a reality by building a team, taking their best ideas, and inspiring people to work toward a shared vision.

And that’s what I’ve seen time and time again from Jefferson. He not only is chock full of great ideas himself, but he has a tremendous knack for building a strong team and soliciting the best ideas from each to create something even better.

I saw this with the Bus Project. And I saw this when he became a State Representative.

He didn’t go to Salem to give speeches. He went to get things done and he did. To give only a few examples, Smith was a key leader in passing same day voter registration, budget transparency, and an innovative economic “gardening” program to benefit small businesses.

He was successful in Salem because he didn’t just push an agenda -- he actively listens and creates a shared agenda that others can join him in championing. This is precisely the skill-set we need in a Mayor.

Importantly for me, Jefferson’s personal vision encompasses a very strong environmental ethic. During his two terms in the Legislature, Smith rapidly became one of the Legislature’s most consistent environmental leaders, scoring above 90% both sessions on the OLCV Scorecard.

But even more importantly, he has repeatedly demonstrated in both rhetoric and leadership how we can – and must -- simultaneously meet the challenge of environmental responsibility, economic prosperity, and social equity.

As a freshman legislator in 2009, Jefferson served on the House Water and Environment Committee. He was given the unenviable task of working on the issue of water allocation in Eastern Oregon – an issue that had served as a flash point for the urban-rural divide and had stumped legislatures for years.

Many of us saw it as a fool’s errand. Yet in partnership with Republican Representative Bob Jenson, Jefferson was able to find a win-win solution that could pass. According to OLCV’s 2009 Scorecard, House Bill 3369 “protects fish and wildlife, encourages conservation, cuts water waste, and puts Oregon on the path to having a statewide water management plan.” It was the most significant water bill in two decades, and took creativity, dedication, and tough negotiations.

In 2011, Jefferson took up the mantle of “Cool Schools,” a bill to help schools across the state become more energy efficient. Smith co-led the charge to pass this environmental community priority, which is helping to create local jobs, save school districts resources, and protect the climate.

Jefferson has also proven willing to buck his party leadership.

In 2009, Jefferson refused to buck under political pressure and voted against one of the top priorities of his House Speaker -- an unbalanced, highways-heavy transportation package.

And for the past few years, long before becoming a mayoral candidate, Jefferson has been asking hard questions about the CRC highway mega-project. He has done so despite immense political pressure from labor unions and Portland Business Alliance to support the CRC.

Alone among the major candidates for Mayor when it comes to the CRC, Jefferson has shown sound judgment about public priorities, wise spending of taxpayer dollars, and the perils of putting the lions’ share of our regional transportation funds into a 1950s-type highway expansion that would mostly benefit Washington commuters.

All that would be enough to earn my support.

But what gets me off the couch to actively help is this -- Portland is at a crossroads. We’ve been coasting on the inspirational actions Portlanders took in the 1970s.

It's time for Portland to inspire again. That means having a big vision and the political skills to put it into practice.

We can be prosperous, sustainable, and fair. We can encourage a true people-powered politics. And we can do it in a way that’s fair to residents across the whole city.

It will take a Mayor who can inspire residents from across the city to see how we must all rise together.

And that’s where Jefferson really shines. I’ve repeatedly witnessed his ability to help people recognize how we’re all in this together and that we all have a responsibility to make our community better.

That’s why I hope you’ll join me not just in supporting Jefferson Smith for Mayor, but in supporting him actively with your time, your voice, and your wallet.

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    Wow Johnathan.

    "Jefferson in 2001 when he was in the process of founding the Bus Project. ...

    I thought it was a grandiose vision and his plans for pulling it off weren’t realistic.

    Not only did he prove me wrong and then some..."

    I know.. right? I felt exactly the same way.

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    I would like to see Willamette Week, who said Jefferson would not be a good manager as Mayor, try to found and build a large non-profit from scratch, and then turn it over to a worthy band of successors. Jefferson built and ran the Oregon Bus Project, which has engaged and energized thousands of young people to get involved in our democracy. That's different, and I would argue superior, to the managerial qualifications of his two primary opponents. Willamette Week missed the boat.

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    If Portland wants to make some serious headway into becoming an actual sustainable city (we're nowhere close), we need a mayor who will be willing to experiment with novel ideas for how to organize this city & oppose significant ventures in the opposite direction like the CRC and coal trains. I agree with Jonathan that Jefferson is the man for the job.

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