I don't fear opposition to the Jackson County, Oregon charter change proposals.
The opposition will backfire.
|Banner at the Friday night rally for the charter change. Photo from Allen Hallmark's Facebook page.|
A reader wrote me, saying that the proposed changes to my local government's charter would draw opposition. She wrote:
"This is bound to become a partisan issue as it will be on the same ballot as a Biden vs. Trump rematch. Republican Commissioners will fight hard, whether overtly or through surrogates, to preserve their compensation packages."
Yes, indeed. I expect opposition. There is always political inertia. People are suspicious of change. There are always "no" votes.
The more significant opposition will come from partisan tribalism. The three current commissioners are all Republicans. I expect the local Republican Party establishment to decide that any status quo that results in three-out-of-three commissioners being Republicans must be good. Then the local Chamber of Commerce, which has a campaign arm and PAC that reliably assists Republicans, will likely add their support for preserving the status quo.
The status quo empowers the County Administrator. For Republicans in the "donor class" of business leaders, the status quo is not a vote of confidence for the incumbent commissioners. Quite the opposite. It is a vote of confidence in the County Administrator, with the underlying assumption that the status quo puts in place compliant, harmless commissioners. Because of the Public Meetings Law, the Administrator is the essential translator and go-between for communication between the commissioners, solidifying his influence. Donor class Republicans presume that commissioners do what the Administrator wants them to do. They like that.
The opposition will backfire. The proposals will seem widely reasonable on their face, so the initiatives start with that advantage. Opposition messaging from the Republican establishment will signal to Democratic voters that this presumably-nonpartisan effort is something Republicans dislike. Negative partisanship will solidify Democratic votes in favor of the initiatives. If Republicans hate it, it must be good.
The bigger problem, though, is within Republicans. Trump remade the GOP electorate. A majority of GOP voters are now proudly populist and anti-elitist. These initiatives dethrone authority figures. The proposals add representation. Most important, they cut politicians' salaries. This is pure populism. Incumbent commissioners and business elites would be defending a privileged status quo. The optics are terrible for initiative opponents. An anti-populist GOP message is off brand and will be a hard sell.
The Republican coalition may go ahead anyway. It will be foolish and self destructive, but it is the hazard built into partisanship. To be a good Republican, stick with the team, even when it tries to defend the indefensible. Salaries of $145,000 for a local politician are shocking high and indefensible to an overwhelming number of local citizens. I recognize that for many of my readers, former brokerage clients locally and my college classmates living in upscale cities and suburbs around the country, the salaries may seem perfectly reasonable. Not here, not now, and not for most voters. That income, with all the perks and benefits, reads as lavish. Excessive. That is especially so if the commissioners' job is to stay out of the way of the Administrator.
Won't Republicans see the peril and stop themselves from crashing into the oncoming railroad train of populism? Some will, perhaps -- the wise and independent ones. Others will not. They will want the apparent political safety and financial support from the team, even when the policy is foolish and unpopular. It is one of the reasons why making the commissioner office non-partisan is popular. Partisanship distorts people's judgement.
The more money Republicans spend fighting these initiatives, the greater will be the vote in their favor. I don't fear organized opposition. I welcome it. The more the better.
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