Portland business stirrings may beckon big changes

By Jim Pasero
Originally featured in Oregon Transformation Newsletter

Leadership. We know we need it in the city of Portland and in the state of Oregon. Need it desperately.

But how and where does leadership come from? Would you know it when you see it? Is it possible to lead if, even under political pressure, you continue to misidentify the problem?

Sadly, we know the opposite of leadership – abdication. And we’ve seen plenty of it recently at every level of government:

We’ve seen it on the federal level when President Biden decided to precipitously and shamefully withdrawal from Afghanistan and declare “defeat” from victory, or at least stalemate.

We’ve seen it on the state level when Gov. Brown acquiesced to teacher union demands that Oregon offer no graduation standards, no educational accountability. The Oregonian headline shouted, “Gov. Brown signed a law to allow Oregon students to graduate without proving they can write or do math. She doesn’t want to talk about it.” Abdication, not leadership.

And we’ve seen it on the local level when our leaders refuse to recognize the city’s homeless crisis as an addiction crisis, not an affordable housing crisis. Our city leaders continue to mouth platitudes such as “it’s a complex problem” and “there is no single solution.”

Oregon voters abdicated their own responsibility last fall when they overwhelmingly passed Ballot Measure 110, decriminalizing all drugs, including heroin, meth, cocaine, oxycodone. An op-ed in The Statesman Journal last October written by Drs. Tony Coelho and Tim Murphy tried to warn voters about the measure’s deadly potential: “Measure 110 would take away addiction treatment and cost lives.”

Still, not enough voters cared enough to read the fine print. They passed it anyway, buying into the George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg propaganda and their nearly $3 million-funded measure.

What’s happened in the nine months since Measure 110 passed? Thousands of addicts have moved to the streets of Portland, Salem, Medford, Eugene, and even McMinnville and other smaller cities. The measure’s passage has blown up an already horrendous civilization crisis.

Still our leaders abdicate; they don’t want to tell the truth, not even to themselves.

Recently two well-known consultants convinced a group of business leaders to state publicly that they’d finally had enough. They launched an advertising campaign to push Portland’s elected leaders to action.

The ad begins with a plea: “Portland is still full of potential, but the politicians are doing too little, too slowly, to save our broken city.” The ad ends with a call to action, “Let’s tell the politicians to do their job, to save the city we love.”

But the downtown business leaders paying for this campaign have, of course, chosen to remain anonymous. Readers may nod affirmatively that with Antifa lurking about, anonymity might make sense. The irony here: asking for leadership and then hiding in anonymity. But the downtown business types are desperate. They have so much at stake and, for now, they absolutely hold a losing hand.

Into this leadership vacuum step political consultants Dan Lavey and Kevin Looper – Lavey is a former Republican consultant now turned independent and Looper is a longtime Democrat strategist who, as OPB noted, “helped guide Gov. Brown to victory” in 2018 over Knute Buehler (then a Lavey client). Also credit Looper with passing the Metro-wide tax to continue enabling the homeless with “housing” options.

Hmm. What’s wrong with that picture?

So Dan Lavey and Kevin Looper are the spokespeople for this anonymous collection of business leaders wanting to save their city by trying to knock common sense and shame into Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, and other Portland city council members, and maybe even some state politicians.

Lavey and Looper recently explained the group’s motivation to the Oregonian.

Said Lavey, “We need to get the public officials involved so … elected officials at all levels feel the heat of the of the people they represent.”

Said Looper, the key problem is “the lack of courage among elected officials … which makes them more afraid of doing wrong than anything.”

Looper’s comments were reminiscent, if not inspired, by my longtime business colleague Bridget Barton’s July announcement of her campaign for Oregon governor.

Said Barton in her announcement video, “Oregon is in crisis – our politicians are running away – cowards!” Barton’s words were said against a background of images of the city’s downtown streets in now all too familiar riot and chaos.

Barton’s announcement video, which explicitly used the word “cowards,” got the attention of the mayor and other city leaders. It apparently got Looper’s attention too.

But can a group of anonymous business leaders hoping to save their city from a decades-long death spiral prod their elected leaders with an ad campaign? Especially if those elected leaders still cling to an ideology that is in denial about what role “permissiveness” and “enabling” may have had in today’s dangerous environment. That is the question.

The worry, our worry, is that those pushing for leadership remain incapable of identifying the problem – that our “mean streets” are inhabited by thousands of dangerous addicts committing slow suicide through their use of now legal but devastating drugs. How can you solve a humanitarian crisis by just moving the tents around the city or managing them better? Ridiculous.

By now, most people are beginning to recognize the “homeless industrial complex” for what it is – a 30-year mistake trying to shuffle the homeless around into different versions of tents or tiny houses. Meanwhile, the real money is going to hundreds, maybe thousands of new nonprofits, new government bureaucracies, new public employee union jobs and, last but not least, the “consultants” who promote this intellectual stew of hogwash to their own financial gain.

But back to where we started: How can you push for leadership when you continue to misidentify the problem?

Portland’s once-in-a-generation civilization crisis is not caused by police brutality or lack of body cameras. And it is NOT caused by lack of housing.

It is caused because we invited addicts from all over the West to come take over our downtown streets. Anyone who doesn’t see this – and see this very clearly – doesn’t really want to solve the problem. That’s not leadership, that’s just hell. Which is what we have in Portland.

If you need to borrow Bridget Barton’s voice to help your ad campaign – that’s okay with us. But maybe you might want to back it up by having the “courage” to do the hard things, like actually elect new leaders. Or, as Bridget says in her opening video for governor, “The grip of addiction is hard to break, but doing hard things is what life demands.”