In Search of Bold Leaders

Further Remarks on Oregon’s 2017 Budget Process

Recent news articles on the way our state leaders are approaching the budget and tax reform process raise legitimate concerns. It’s hard to understand why Democratic state legislators would be willing to preemptively concede the debate over the budget, despite holding a majority in both legislative chambers. In one recent Oregonian article, Senate President Peter Courtney is quoted as saying “we’re not getting out of here without some cuts… we’re going to have to make cuts regardless.” Just weeks prior to that, Senator Richard Devlin endorsed $500 million in cuts, saying “people on both sides of the aisle will have to accept things they don’t like.” This is frustrating to read.

We have an obligation to stand up for our values and fight hard for the well-being of our state. These cuts would be devastating, so we need our leaders to boldly and persuasively make the case against them. Rather than starting out by agreeing to Republican framing, we ought to fight hard to prevent cuts, and only compromise at the end if truly necessary. If Oregonians experience budget austerity despite electing Democrats, our efforts to build enthusiasm for people-oriented policies will be compromised.

Citizens of Oregon need representatives who realize that the constraints of the past don’t have to limit us in the present — that the people are ready to respond to a compassionate vision for America and support leaders who will fight for that vision. Our representatives should push to raise revenue from very wealthy individuals and from large corporations that haven’t been paying their fair share. The pessimistic and defeatist talk of some legislators is a losing strategy. We would do better to have our elected leaders argue passionately for the things we believe in. The tone of our communication matters a great deal in convincing others and rallying our supporters.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” He was, of course, referring to the struggle for civil rights, not budget debates. Yet when we’re talking about taking health care coverage away from our vulnerable neighbors, eliminating transformative educational opportunities, and ending mental health treatment programs, we are really making choices with life or death consequences. Democratic leaders can inspire hope by speaking about the budget in those real, flesh-and-blood terms rather than as an abstraction.

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