Thursday, August 31, 2006

All Politics Is Local

City government is about basic services and infrastructure. Police and fire, water and sewer, traffic and roads, building fees and zoning rules, ambulance service. What have people been talking to me about? Their neighbor's construction project, the size of their water bill, the rezoning of their neighborhood, the price of real estate, downtown parking, brush blocking the sidewalk. I've never liked the catch word "livability", but I can't think of a better term for the combination of big and small issues which affect our families every day.

There are some common misconceptions about city government. The City does not control the Port of Hood River or Port lands such as the Marina Park or Event Site. It can't change the tolls-- but it can change the parking meters. The City is only in charge of some of the area parks-- we elect a Parks and Rec Commission regionally who manage the others (Example: City owns Jackson Park, but not the Aquatic Center). ODOT is in charge of state roads and highways, but the city fixes the potholes on your local streets. The City does not run the schools. City jurisdiction ends at the city limits-- Hood River County Commission deals with services outside the city limits.

Another thing most people are confused about is where the City gets the money to provide these services. I'll do a tour through the City budget soon which should clear that up.

I'll also be writing much more about the "big" issues which will be before the Council in the near future: Zoning will be front and center, as the city tries to rework the zoning rules to address the pressures of development, lack of affordable housing, and the effects of Measure 37. Budget will loom over everything-- the city has a major budget deficit which it will have to correct before we can talk about anything that costs money. Waterfront development and the new waterfront park are again on the agenda, but this time I think we have the political will to move it forward-- if we can find the money.

The Process

Being the sort of guy who likes to understand how everything works (yes, I'm an engineer) I started the process by reading the Oregon State Constitution, the state statute governing elections (ORS249), and the Hood River City Code. I found that I would need 20 valid signatures of registered city voters by 72 hours before the filing deadline of August 29 to get my name on the November ballot. I also found that there can be a $150,000 fine for lying on my filing forms, and that no one in Oregon may serve in public office if they have challenged anyone to a duel. I managed to get the forms and petition signatures together without lying or dueling, and the City and County have verified the "adequacy" of my submissions-- so the race is on!

We have six City Councilors and a Mayor-- three of the Councilors and the Mayor are up for election this November. This race is non-partisan, so there is no primary election. My name will appear on the November ballot along with three incumbents in a "vote for any 3" format. Top three vote counts take the seat. The three incumbents would have been uncontested without me in the race, so I suspect they are not thrilled to see me. But I'll add that the two I've spoken with have been very gracious in welcoming me.

Just by filing I've guaranteed there will actually be some discussion of local issues. The race will get some newspaper coverage, and we'll have a candidates' forum. Democracy lives!

Hood River has about 3200 registered voters in 3000 homes, which means politics here is largely a door-to-door operation. I figure I will need between 900 and 1200 votes to win a seat, depending on turnout. This is a small town and I know a lot of people, but not that many! My opponents have their names in the paper every month or so because of their Council roles, so I really need to focus on name recognition. That means overcoming my shyness and introducing myself to a lot of strangers, as well as putting up lawn signs and passing out leaflets.

In Oregon any campaign which spends over $300 needs to form an official campaign committee and do regular filings with the state. That's a big motivation to run my campaign on a shoe string budget. Printing leaflets and signs for <$300 will be a challenge. Note to state legislators-- this limit needs to be updated just a bit. Note to political junkies-- I promise to get into the local issues in detail, but there's just a little more intro I need to do.

Hello, my name is...

"Hello, my name is Arthur Babitz and I'm running for City Council." I'd better get used to hearing myself saying that, because I will have to say it a few thousand times in the next 8 weeks. Last week I filed to get my name on the ballot in Hood River, Oregon. This is an entirely new adventure for me-- while I follow local and national politics closely, I've never had the courage or time to put myself in the middle of it. But now a combination of issues I care about and prodding by friends and neighbors has convinced me to jump in. I'll get into the political process and the issues in later posts, but to start here's some info about Hood River for those of you following this from afar:

Hood River is a city of about 6200 residents on the Columbia River in Oregon, about 60 miles east of Portland. Hood River's economy is a complex mix. Hood River has historically had three major employers:

• agriculture, driven by nearby orchard producing famous pears, apples, and many other crops
• tourism, especially sports related tourism such as hiking, biking, kayaking, windsurfing, kiteboarding, skiing, and snowboarding
• forest products, with nearby county, national, and private forests

More recently the area has seen several hi-tech companies set up shop, and the city is full of independent business owners such as engineers, architects, writers, graphic designs, who brought their work with them so they could enjoy the area with their families. And with numerous B&B's and nearby wineries, weddings have become a significant part of the local economy. Perhaps the best way to summarize the local economy is to say the people of Hood River are a varied bunch who have found many different ways to support themselves so they can enjoy the natural beauty and opportunities for recreation with which we are blessed.

Hood River has received more than its share of national attention lately as magazines such as Outside, Men's Journal, and National Geographic Adventure have included us in their "best places to ..." lists. Like many locals I read these articles with some pride, but cringe a little with the thought of how we will deal with the increased traffic and development. But I'll save the politics for later posts.