Portland terrorism task force mistake was all politics

By Dave Lister

During an on-air discussion with KXL’s Lars Larson this week, over whether Portland should reverse its 2005 decision and rejoin the Joint Terrorism Task Force, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman was asked if the council’s decisions were too often influenced by the perception of political correctness. “When we originally heard testimony to withdraw from the JTTF,” Saltzman said, “we heard from a lot of people who disagreed with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration and the Patriot Act. But I don’t believe we were hearing from the silent majority of Portlanders.” That statement was sweet music to my ears.

The discussion, of course, was prompted by the failed plot of Somali immigrant Mohamed Osman Mohamud to explode a car bomb during downtown’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony and kill as many of the thousands of innocents gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square as possible. Because of the city’s earlier decision to withdraw from the JTTF, the detection and interdiction of Mohamud’s plot occurred without the participation of the city of Portland.

The original decision to withdraw from the JTTF was not a policy decision but rather a petty personal squabble between the federal authority and Portland’s newly minted mayor, Tom Potter. Potter was, for a variety of reasons, not granted a top-security security clearance by the FBI. That rubbed him the wrong way.

Rather than admit that the failing was his own, Potter crafted a counter-argument that, as police commissioner, it was not reasonable that his subordinates should be privy to information that he was unable to receive. That was an easy sell to Portland’s “blame Bush” political climate and the council, including newly elected commissioner and now mayor, Sam Adams. The council approved the withdrawal with only Dan Saltzman in opposition.

The council chambers were packed. There were gray-bearded men in tie-dyed T-shirts with walking sticks. There were college students sporting a variety of piercings, tattoos and fluorescent hair colorings.

The crowd was unruly, unbehaved and generally unwashed. As each commissioner, with the exception of Saltzman, railed against the policies of the Bush administration, they were supported with a rally of hand clapping, whistling and sign waving.

As an observer in a sport coat and necktie, I was definitely out of my element. I realized that I was a member of the city’s “silent majority,” and before the proceedings concluded, I slipped out a side door.

I will leave it to others to decide if the city’s decision to withdraw from the JTTF has made us less safe. But I am sure of one thing. There is a “silent majority” in Portland. It was my attendance at that council meeting that made me come to that realization. Portland State University students, politically active retirees and trust fund babies are not the majority here.

Working men and women trying to raise their families, meet their mortgages and hold down a job are the majority.

They are, for the most part, not politically engaged. They do not have, for the most part, the ability to attend City Council or county commissioners meetings. They do, without exception, fund our local government.

It’s probably easy for a city commissioner to look out at the crowd attending council meetings to conclude those people are their constituents. They come to rail against the Federal Authority. They adorn themselves in plastic bags to protest the petrochemical industry. They are mostly young, they are mostly politically active and they have the time to show up.

But one thing is sure. They are not the majority.