Eugene Weekly : News : 5.15.08

Handy vs. Green
Challenger may bring big change to county

Lane County government could be on the verge of a dramatic change.

Progressive Rob Handy said he’s confident he can unseat North Eugene County Commissioner Bobby Green for a key swing seat.

Handy has beat Green in fundraising and said he’s personally knocked on more than 13,000 doors in the district.

“I’ve been knocking on doors every morning and every afternoon for five months,” Handy said. “I have good reason to be optimistic because I’ve talked to many, many folks.”

Green did not return a call requesting an interview for this article by press time.

“It’s very hard to defeat a candidate that goes out and talks to thousands and thousands of people over months and months,” South Eugene County Commissioner Peter Sorenson said. Every two doors knocked on can multiply to three votes, Sorenson figures and said Handy needs about 12,000 votes to win.

Sorenson said he expects Handy will join him and West County Commissioner Bill Fleenor to form a majority that will shift county government away from corporate tax breaks and developer subsidies and towards protecting livability, the environment and restoring voter trust and budget support.

Handy is backed by the Oregon League of Conservation voters. Green has the lowest OLCV voting record on the county commission. “It’s pretty stark,” Sorenson said of the contrast. “It will be an important change.”

The county plays a key role in approving or rejecting corporate tax breaks, developer road subsidies, urban sprawl plans and freeways. In recent decades an anti-environmental, pro-corporate and pro-developer majority has dominated those votes.

“People have been telling me gosh, where have you been, we’ve been waiting for someone like you,” said Handy. Handy, who’s served as a River Road neighborhood leader for a decade, describes himself as a community-oriented, progressive populist.

Handy said Green generated a lot of opposition in his district when he voted to impose a flat income tax that voters had rejected. “That move by Mr. Green just blew people’s trust right out of the water,” Handy said.

Opponents pushed to refer the tax, and then voters rejected it again with 71 percent voting no. Seventy percent of voters in Green’s district opposed the tax he supported.

Handy said the flat income tax lacked graduated rates like the federal income tax and would have forced working people to bear 86 percent of the burden. “It wasn’t a fair tax,” he said.

“After 13 years of Mr. Green being at the county, his record and his judgement are very questionable,” said Handy.

While the county is in a budget crisis, Green has supported “close to $100 million” in subsidies, tax waivers and give-aways to corporations and developers, Handy said. “He’s never met a public subsidy, tax waiver or tax giveaway that he didn’t like.”

Handy said Green took millions of dollars in county road money that could have been used to fill potholes and instead spent the money to subsidize road projects for developer urban sprawl like the Rob Straub Parkway on the west edge of Springfield. “He wanted to take that money and build new road projects for developers. That was a higher priority for him than potholes,” Handy said.

Handy also faulted Green for voting to pull money from improving Beltline, the worst traffic problem in his district, to support the failed West Eugene freeway through wetlands.

Green has reported spending $91,740 on his campaign. Big contributors include sand, gravel, construction, timber, developer and land speculation companies that stand to make big profits from county contracts, mining permits and urban sprawl. Delta Sand and Gravel gave $11,000. Wildish Sand and Gravel gave $7,000. The state homebuilder’s PAC gave $3,000, developer/land speculator Joe Gonyea gave $2,500 and the Giustina land, timber and development companies gave $2,500. Green’s contributors include wealthy local residents who have given thousands of dollars to President George W. Bush and other Republicans.

Handy leads Green with $105,466 in spending. Most of his money has come from small contributions from local Democrats with a record of supporting environmental and livability causes. Handy said he has more than 600 donors “scraping up $50 to $100” to give to his campaign, which has “more than 200 volunteers.”

Handy has spent some of his money on TV ads, one of which features a quote from Green speaking at the Eugene City Club in opposition to campaign finance reform. As he goes door to door, Handy said, “that’s causing quite a stir.”