“When you’re dealing with God and country, nothing in Eugene is easy,” says a Fox News story about Eugene City Councilor Mike Clark’s 2011 effort to force the council to say the Pledge of Allegiance before every meeting.
It would seem hard to believe that green-Eugene would even consider voting into office a conservative candidate who has voted against helping the homeless, against combatting climate change and against environmental ordinances.
But when you’re dealing with social issues and the environment, nothing in Eugene city politics is easy, either.
It’s a topsy-turvy election year, and while progressive candidate Lucy Vinis is gaining in name recognition and has raised more money from her supporters, Clark has the advantage of the fame associated with having held a seat on the City Council for the past decade, though his votes bear a closer examination.
Clark did not respond to three invitations for an interview and meeting with EW’s editorial board. He told a reporter he had indeed received the invitations. Clark was the only political candidate who did not respond, locally and statewide.
The May 17 primary election is nearing quickly, and any candidate who gets more than 50 percent in the primary is the only name on the ballot for that seat in the fall. With five candidates vying for mayor, it is a numbers game as to whether anyone can win outright in the spring.
It’s tempting to compare Clark to that “short-fingered vulgarian” who is also running for office, Donald Trump. Trump, who also benefits from name recognition, vacillates between calling climate change a hoax and admitting that global warming is in fact a problem. Clark recently told an audience at a mayoral candidate forum that he “doesn’t know” if he believes in manmade climate change but then weaseled and also said that “if critics and doubters are wrong, it has catastrophic consequences.”
He voted against the city’s Climate Recovery Ordinance in the summer of 2014, against a resolution in support of a statewide carbon tax in 2015 and he also voted against Eugene’s plastic bag ban in 2012.
In the battle over the Pledge of Allegiance, Clark lost, but he gained a compromise in which the council agreed it could say the pledge at the four meetings closest to the Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Flag Day.
Pledge debate aside, Clark is no stranger to controversy. In the week before the election in his first unopposed run for the Eugene City Council Ward 5 position in 2006 — Clark has never faced opposition in a race before now — The Register-Guard reported he was cited by an Oregon State trooper for driving under the influence and entering a diversion program. He was just below the legal limit, but failed a field sobriety test.
In 2011, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission fined Clark $500 for failing to file financial disclosure reports for three years from 2009-2011, despite reminder letters. He could have been fined more, but the commission decided it needed to have better educated Clark on the importance of filing the forms, the R-G reported. In a letter to the commission at the time, Clark wrote that after failing to file the forms, he had intended to catch up, “but got scared and procrastinated.”
Clark’s votes themselves are a good indication of his track record and where he might go as mayor. Clark has been wooing south Eugene voters by coming out against the controversial South Willamette rezoning plan known as SW-SAZ (South Willamette Special Area Zone), even winking in the direction of South Willamette neighbors when he made a motion to delay the plan at an Oct. 26, 2015 City Council meeting.
While Clark told the audience at the March 3 mayoral debate, hosted by Oregon Strong Lane County, that he sees homelessness as a major issue for Eugene, his voting history doesn’t back it up: In 2011 he voted against establishing the Bascom Village affordable housing project; in 2012 he voted against an Opportunity Village Eugene site; and he voted against an ordinance allowing overnight camping on city properties and churches in 2013. The OVE micro-housing pilot project (now SquareOne Villages) has made headlines across the country for its innovative efforts to give the unhoused a leg up.
Clark’s record on social issues is also marred by his vote against Eugene’s sick leave ordinance, his vote to sell the courthouse garden plot that helped at-risk youth and former inmates, as well as voting against the city giving $50,000 to Nepal after the devastating 2015 earthquake that killed more than 8,500 people. Eugene is a sister city with Kathmandu.
Clark’s campaign, which is currently reporting $8,715 in donations, has received $1,000 from Wildish Land Company and $250 from Oregonians for Affordable Housing, which is a committee “to support candidates and legislation that support the building industry.”
EW had a lot of questions for Clark on his voting record and on his statements during his campaign. Like Trump, is he trying to revise his views on global warming to garner votes? Or does he fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem climate change poses? Does he actually think that golf courses are parklands or was he just confused in a Jan. 25 City Council work session?
Clark chose not to speak to EW and explain his views and votes.
Additional research provided by Alex V. Cipolle and Amy Schneider.