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Klamath County Assessor Reg LeQuieu shares his Thursday night speech about "home rule" which he presented at the Republican Central Committee meeting. It is about the non-partisan issue regarding the proposed new charter for Klamath County's home rule system of government.
I have been asked to address the issue of Commissioners elected by partisanship vs. Commissioners elected by non-partisanship.
But before I speak I need to say something. Some of what I have to say could be interpreted as a negative approach because I will cite examples that will illustrate that current partisanship labels do not necessarily accurately predict a desired political philosophy. You also need to know that I will say nothing by way of illustration that I have not already said in public meetings before the present BOCC. I also must say that this is not a moral issue; that is, this is not an issue over which a disagreement should cost a friendship. This is a political issue; this is what I call a “wisdom issue”—is it wiser to change to a charter form of local government under this proposed charter or is it wiser to stay with the present form of government.
It seems, based on the initial report in the H&N and Dan Golden’s guest editorial that one of the primary objections to the proposed charter is that it changes the new commissioner positions to non-partisan. And that change will leave a critically important component of information out of the campaigns. That is, the suggestion is that we will not have the political party label to help us determine whether a candidate is a conservative (Republican) or a liberal (Democrat).
First, a majority of those on the working group are Republicans. Second, a majority favored leaving the positions partisan—until a meeting with commissioners from Hood River County. The change from partisan election to non-partisan elections has worked so well for them and they recommended it so strongly that we were convinced, at the 11th hour, to revise that aspect of the proposed charter.
My opposition to the charter proposal in 1995 was that it changed most of today’s elected positions to appointed positions. The charter proposed retains all of today’s elected positions and removes that objection. All of our “other” elected positions are non-partisan already.
The main reason given for support of partisan positions seems to be that political party affiliation tells us whether a candidate is a conservative who supports limited government or is a tax-and-spend liberal who believes that big government is good and bigger government is better.
The questions I would ask in response are:
A) As you look back over the past twenty or more years is there any evidence that we might have elected someone other than those we did elect if the positions were non-partisan? My answer is “no” these same people almost certainly would have been elected.
B) Did we actually consistently elect a majority of Republicans who were fiscal and political conservatives, and who could work amicably together? My answer again is “no” we have not elected a majority of Republicans who were political and fiscal conservatives, and you would have to go clear back to the Nell Kounen and Floyd Wynn era to find a board to seemed to work amicably together.
Let’s consider five reasons I make the assertion that the label has not produced consistent conservative political, fiscal or behavioral results:
1) Two of our present commissioners have complained to me about the funding restrictions of Measure 50. Measure 50 was supported by the vast majority of Klamath County Republicans and, in my opinion, M-50 is a very good property tax limitation measure. So far as I can tell I am the only Assessor in the state of Oregon to have voted for it. It’s basic message was that the property tax payers were no longer going to fund automatic 6% increases each year. Why? Because the typical property taxpayer does not get 6% annual raises—they get average annual raises that are more like 3%. If we were to engage our mouth before engaging our brain and say something like, “yes, but your property appreciates an average of 6% or more annually”, the thoughtful taxpayer would remind us that their property does not pay taxes—they pay the property taxes out of their net income. Even income producing property does not pay property taxes; the owner pays the property taxes out of the net operating income. Property only pays capitol gains taxes for it is only upon sale that it produces the income with which to pay taxes. Since the former automatic 6% annual increases exceeded the average annual pay increases, it amounted to an automatic tax increase. Now government has to live and budget more like the vast majority of individuals do.
2) But they have done more than just complain about it privately, they have rejected it’s central message in their budgeting decisions. Please consider: one year after passage of Measure 50 a majority of the BOCC approved a County General Fund expenditure increase of 14.4%; the next year they approved another expenditure increase of 9.2%. Deficit spending was over $500,000 in 1998-99, over 1.5 million in 1999-00 and another two hundred thousand in 2000-01. By 2003-04 the General Fund ending/beginning balance was a minus $465,658. In seven years there was an aggregate deficit spending totaling almost 2.5 million dollars. This, in my view, was a rejection of the message of Measure 50—a rejection of the mandate overwhelmingly endorsed by Republicans. During this time there were savings to the General fund totaling over one million—in other words, the General Fund had a million more to spend without increasing the total general fund, but the increases cited were over and above these savings. It can be demonstrated that if the BOCC and budget committee had adopted a budget growth limit of 6% annually—huge in the face of M-50’s 3% limitation—that we would have retained an almost 2.5 million ending/beginning balance in the General Fund. The all Republican board of commissioners voted 2-1 for these increases.
3) In the face of the very real prospect of losing the vast majority of our funding to the road fund, the construction of a twenty million dollar road shop was proposed. I went on record opposing that plan as did the past two public works directors and 4/5 of the county roads advisory committee and the other Republican commissioner. Conservatives opposing a more liberal position—Republicans opposing another Republican.
4) The wages of elected officials were raised by 8% to 10% in 2005 when no other employees in the county received a COLA—the employees received an extra $50 per month toward health insurance costs, but then we received that too. I publicly opposed that action. This was, in my view, the same unjustified action that Gov. Kulongoski recently took with state department managers, but then, he is a Democrat. Again, an all-Republican commission voted 2-1 for this increase.
5) I think you will agree that the Golden Rule is a Republican Value—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But the Republican label has not resulted in consistent common courtesies or amicable behavior. The withholding of information from a fellow Republican commissioner is the most blatant violation of Republican values—but not the only violation.
This is why I say that, while we have had only Republican commissioners, that has not equated to having consistently fiscal and political conservatives nor common courtesies extended to all Republicans as the central committee has suggested we could expect just from knowing in what party a candidate was registered.
How might we otherwise determine whether a non-partisan candidate has “Republican values”? 1) We could just ask the candidate. 2) If the candidate declined to answer we could look up the candidate’s registration at the Clerk’s office. 3) We could also send each candidate a questionnaire that asked open-ended questions about his/her political philosophy and determine from that whether a candidate shared our values.
It pains me to have to go negative to document my conclusion. I have presented only factual information. Surely a different spin can be placed on these facts, but I believe I’m in the “no-spin zone” and these observations support my conclusion that partisanship is not the benefit that has been suggested, nor will it be the detriment that has been feared.
Prepared and presented by Reg LeQuieu
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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