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Tigard's transit fight fueled by outside bucks

by: THE TIMES - Voters have until Tuesday to cast their vote for 34-210, which will decide the fate of high capacity transit in the city. Several outside groups have donated to campaigns for and against the measure.A recent mailer sent to Tigard homes this week had a clear message.

“Tigard citizens should decide on their city’s future,” it read. “Don’t let wealthy outside developers and construction companies influence local decisions.”

The mailer is one of several sent to likely voters regarding Measure 34-210, the Tigard ballot measure that calls for a public vote before any high-capacity transit line — such as MAX light rail or bus rapid transit — can come to Tigard.

The charge of outside influence has become a common refrain among supporters and opponents of the measure. Each side has accused the other of allowing interest groups to cloud their judgment.

Supporters of the measure say outside groups, such as Metro and TriMet, want to change Tigard to suit their needs by making it more like Portland and bringing expensive mass transit projects that earn big bucks for engineering and construction companies.

Opponents say the fight has nothing to do with Tigard, but is really a proxy in a struggle with a Tea Party ideal about government spending and stems from an already failed fight to stop light rail in Clackamas County.

by: CHASE ALLGOOD - Andrew Miller, CEO of Stimson Lumber in Portland, has contributed thousands of dollars to the campaign to pass Measure 34-210. Without his and other outside contributions, campaign officials say the race would have looked very differentFor a measure that is so focused on local feedback — measure supporters say the issue really comes down to governments listening to local residents — most of the money on both sides comes from people who don’t reside inside the city at all, and some don’t live in the state.

Stand to gain

Measure 34-210 has not brought in a great deal of money on either side. Opponents have raised $15,800 and supporters have collected $8,400.

The two sides have posted yard signs across town, held private house parties, sent mailers and gone door to door to discuss the measure with likely voters.

“You aren’t wrong in the perception that a substantial amount has flowed into the campaign on both sides from outside of Tigard,” said Thomas Murphy, who runs the “Stop Congestion - Vote No” committee.

Murphy said the campaign sought the help of organizations that had a vested interest in its outcome. Opponents of the measure have seen considerable backing from outside sources, including Pennsylvania’s LTK Engineering Services, which provided a $3,000 contribution; John Carrol, former Portland Streetcar leader, who gave $1,000; and James Abramson and John Bollier, executives with Stacy and Witbeck, which builds light-rail lines, who each donated $2,500.

With their donations and several other Portland-area engineering firms and utilities — including Portland General Electric, which contributed $500 — that accounts for a large chunk of change to stop 34-210 from passing.

“When this measure came up, and we realized the consequences of it, we did seek contributions from people and businesses that, in our view, have an enlightened self- interest in transit options, transit planning and high-capacity transit itself,” Murphy said. “Perhaps it would be more pure morally to only accept $5 contributions from individuals; however, that is not what we have done.”

Murphy is blunt about contributions coming from people who stand to gain from expanding high-capacity transit to Tigard. He said the intention isn’t to put cash into the pockets of big businesses, but rather to plan for the city’s future.

“There is little about a political campaign that is absolutely morally pure,” he said. “We have appealed to people who have a financial interest in this, but they are not telling us what to do.”

Contributed thousands

On the other side, support of the measure has been largely grassroots, with co-petitioners Art Crino and Tim Esau putting in their own money into the committee, “Voter’s First.”

But the group had little money for things like yard signs or mailers. That is where the Oregon Transformation Project came in. The political action group headquartered in Lake Oswego has spent more than $3,500 for the campaign, paying for arguments in the voter’s pamphlet, lawn signs and mailers.

It’s a serious contender to have in their corner. The group is largely credited with the shift in political power in Clackamas County, where a more conservative majority took over the county’s board of commissioners in 2012.

The group has funded efforts in Gladstone, Damascus and Wilsonville and has put up several politically charged billboards along Interstate 205 that warn about an inevitable “Portland creep,” among other issues.

The group has been largely funded by Washington County timber magnate Andrew Miller, who runs Stimson Lumber Co. In addition to help from the Transformation Project, Miller also paid $2,912 for postage for the the Voter’s First campaign and donated another $3,088 to the campaign.

The support from Miller and the Oregon Transformation Project has been invaluable to the group, said Esau, who co-sponsored the measure.

“If we hadn’t had their funding, we would not have had as much opportunity to get the message out there,” he said.

Bridget Barton, a principal at Third Century Solutions, a public affairs group that runs the Oregon Transformation Project, said the group got involved because local elected officials “stopped listening to their own voters.”

“We watched those people go out last summer and knock on doors to get signatures and kill themselves working to try to save their city,” Barton said. “They deserve help.”

Esau said the campaign would have likely looked very different without the support of Miller and the Oregon Transformation Project. “We would have scrambled to put up some signs, and they probably would not have been as comprehensive as they were,” Esau said. “And, we would have really scaled back on the amount of mailing we would have done. Far and away that is the most substantive push that they have helped us with.”

Political reality

Although one of the largest contributors to the cause, Barton said her group’s participation in the measure has been minor. “It’s just enough to let these Tigard citizens have their voices heard,” she said. “No one else is helping them.”

Barton said the group has little to gain from helping Voters First, but Jim Moore, a political analyst and professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, said the group’s work in Clackamas County helps to paint a picture of intent.

“Groups like (the Oregon Transformation Project) talk very clearly about wanting to avoid the ‘Portlandization’ of the metro area,” he said. “They go where they think there is a good chance that they can get their policies in place.”

Metro, the regional government, has led the charge to bring high-capacity transit to the area, which Moore said drew the Transformation Project’s attention. “It all gets back to the idea that Metro is a political reality, and regional planning is a political reality,” Moore said. “OTP has had no success in stopping, altering or editing it in the past, so it is looking at the edges of the metro (region to see where it can have influence).”

Without other big-ticket items on the ballot, Moore said Tuesday’s election will likely have a lower turnout, giving supporters of the measure an advantage at the ballot box.

“People who are against government encroachment are more motivated to turn out,” he said. “Whereas people who say, ‘What’s wrong with high-capacity transit here?’ don’t have it on the top five of their to-do list. In low turnout elections, they have a much higher success rate.”



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