The Portland mayor’s race: What I learned from reading more than 5,000 words from Ted Wheeler and Jules Bailey

Both candidates are big on bloviating, but short on specifics — and very short of workable specifics.

Portland is the place where young people come to retire. It’s the city where little gets done because … well … the dog ate my homework.

In the single party rule of Portland politics, city council candidates run on personality rather than policies. That’s why Portland is entering its 12th year of disastrous mayoral leadership. Yes, twelve years!

That’s why Portlanders were excited to see two highly qualified candidates for mayor in the upcoming 2016 elections. One is lanky, blondish, and in his early 50s. The other is shorter, dark-haired, and in his mid 30s. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the two: both Democrats, both self-described Progressives, both spending much of their adult life in the public sector. In fact, it’s a struggle to see how either candidate is different from the other … or any different from the current mayor (tall, gray hair, 60 years old).

Imagine Portlanders’ disappointment when the two major candidates for mayor squander away a chance to clearly lay out their vision, their policy plans, and their differences between each other.

At the end of 2015, Oregon’s largest newspaper, gave mayoral candidates Jules Bailey and Ted Wheeler an opportunity to write a 300 word article a day for 10 days. (In true dog-ate-my-homework spirit, the Oregonian’s link to the “10 Questions” series is broken.)

It’s a candidates dream: A major paper publishing your 10 page mayoral manifesto!

But, as youth is wasted on the young, press is wasted on politicians.

Both Wheeler and Bailey blew it.

Their answers had all the hallmarks of the Dog-Ate-My-Homework City. Their answers were blah, blah, boring and mostly nonsense, like this trite claptrap from candidate Bailey:

Being mayor isn’t about running for a particular office, it’s a calling and it has to be a calling to serve all Portlanders.

Even worse, Wheeler and Bailey gave almost zero guidance about what they would do as mayor. That’s the focus of today’ post: What policies would Bailey and Wheeler enact as mayor.

I looked through all of their answers in the “10 Questions” series. Heck, I even transcribed their video speeches. The lists below are the specific things each said he would do as mayor.

Specific things Jules Bailey said he’d do as mayor:

  1. Revenue ballot measure to provide additional housing funds. “Revenue ballot measure” is Baileyspeak for new/more/higher taxes. Bailey doesn’t say what his tax plan is, but it is within the mayor and city council’s ability to put tax measures on the ballot.
  2. Hire and train “more high-quality police officers.” This is something a Portland city mayor can do. But, the policy is based on a silly premise that his opponent would oppose hiring high quality police officers. Even worse, it is insulting to current Portland police officers. It assumes that we have a bunch of low quality police officers that were hired by the last mayor promising to hire more high quality police officers.
  3. Increase minimum wage. Currently Oregon cities cannot have their own minimum wage. Under current law, a mayor Bailey could not raise the minimum wage in the City of Portland.
  4. Remove barriers to requiring affordable housing. That’s a code word for inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning forces home builders to build cheap housing even if the market can’t support cheap housing. It’s a way of forcing apartments and condos into neighborhoods now zoned for single family residences. This would require a change to state law, so a mayor Bailey currently could not enact this policy.
  5. Carbon pricing. That’s a tax on just about anything that uses energy: transportation, home heating, cooking, and so on. City-level carbon pricing is technologically impossible. State-level carbon pricing would require action by the state legislature. A mayor Bailey could not enact carbon pricing in the City of Portland.
  6. Congestion pricing. This would require a GPS transponder in every motor vehicle in the City of Portland. This is impossible to enact at the city-level: How would people outside of Portland be charged for congestion when they are driving through? State-level congestion pricing would require action by the state legislature. A mayor Bailey could not enact congestion pricing in the City of Portland.

Bottom line on Bailey: Six specific policies, but only two are feasible.

While most of Bailey’s ideas are more fanciful wishes than feasible proposals, Wheeler had pretty close to zero policy ideas. It was a challenge to come up with this list because Wheeler seems to have an abiding aversion to specifics.

Specific things Ted Wheeler said he’d do as mayor:

  1. Assign himself the police bureau. This is the mayor’s job — assigning bureaus. Wheeler doesn’t say what he would do differently as Police Commissioner, but he would be Police Commissioner. Also, in Portland, the mayor traditionally runs the police bureau, so there’s nothing especially Earth shaking about Wheeler’s answer. Ho hum.
  2. Support gas tax. This is something the city can do. However, this may be moot, as the current mayor Hales and commissioner Novick say they’ll have a gas tax on the November 2016 ballot. Thus, this really isn’t a mayor Wheeler issue. The big question is, would Wheeler put a gas tax on the ballot in 2017 if the current city council fails to act this year?
  3. Use Medicaid money to move homeless people off the streets and into transitional housing. Other cities are doing it, so it’s feasible. It doesn’t cost taxpayers any more money, so it’s got that going for it. But, it looks like only the disabled qualify for assistance, so it may make only a tiny dent in Portland homelessness. Nevertheless, this may be the best idea from Wheeler, but the big question looms: Isn’t this the county’s job?
  4. Work with state leaders to ensure that every child in the Oregon foster care system has a clear transition plan into housing, job-training, employment or education. Work with state leaders? WTF, Wheeler. You want to be mayor, and all you plan on doing is “work with” other politicians and bureaucrats? First, that’s your job as mayor. Second, that’s not a policy, that’s a bunch of meetings, working groups, and task forces that blow tax dollars on donuts and pizza.
  5. “Call on landlords, businesses and government to work together to ensure that we have an emergency shelter bed for every person sleeping on the streets of our city.” Call on landlords and businesses? WTF, Wheeler? You’re the wannabe mayor, and all you’re going to do is “call on landlords and business?” Sorry, that’s not a policy. I only included this because Wheeler’s list of ideas was so short.

Bottom line on Wheeler: Five so-so specific policies, but only one actually does something.

A little pop psychology. If Bailey can say he’s an economist, then I can say I’m a psychologist. My takeaway:

  • Bailey is a progressive’s progressive. Progressives are smarter than anyone else (just ask them). Progressivism is defined by smart people forcing other people do things they don’t want to do and forcing other people to give up money they don’t want to give up (for the great good, of course). Bailey’s focus on forcing developers to build cheap housing is textbook progressivism. Three of Bailey’s six policies are some form of new tax, fee, or charge taking money from one group of Portlanders to hand over to another group of Portlanders — again, textbook Progressivism.
  • Wheeler thinks the race is his to lose. He doesn’t layout out any specific initiatives because he doesn’t want to offend anyone. He’s playing it safe, but has nothing to say. Mayor Charlie Hales was the same way.

The winner of this round is …

You know how nowadays every kid gets a participation ribbon? Jules Bailey gets the participation ribbon on this round. Ted Wheeler would have received a ribbon, but he seems to have gone home before they handed out the participation prizes.

Bailey wins for showing up with a list of ideas. Dopey ideas that can’t be enacted, but ideas nonetheless. Although Wheeler had the best idea (Medicaid-for-homeless), it was one idea and it was his only clearly articulated policy plan. Wheeler gets points subtracted for passing the buck — twice — with his plan to “call on landlords and businesses” and his plan to “work with state leaders.”

In case you were wondering, here were my ground rules for my observations in this post.

Comments are based only on responses given in the Oregonian’s “10 Questions” series. Some clown is sure to say, “But that’s not fair. My guy didn’t have a chance to give a full answer/vision/plan/whatever!”

Three things:

  1. “Fair” is a 4-letter word.
  2. I focused on specific policies. Mushy crap does not count. For example, Bailey said he’d “prioritize funding for affordable housing.” That means nothing: Is affordable housing his top priority, or is it somewhere else on the list? Bailey also says he’s going to “prioritize local economic development to create family-supporting jobs.” Now he’s got two priorities: Which is priority gets priority in Bailey’s prioritization? It’s pretty clear that Bailey says prioritize because that’s what lifetime politicians say.
  3. Wheeler and Bailey were given the opportunity to write eight 300 word essays and give a 3 minute speech. That’s a little less than a 10 pages. If a candidate can’t say what needs to be said in a 10 page manifesto, then that candidate shouldn’t be a candidate.
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