Voters Should Matter

Why are politicians in Eugene and Lane County so opposed to democracy?

By Paul Nicholson 

After a few weeks of grooming, flattery and free fattening food, it is not uncommon for our unpaid mayor and City Council to conclude that there is little reason to concern themselves with their constituents. After all, our unpaid elected officials often have no opponent. 

Voter initiative and recalls are powerful tools that are available to unhappy citizens. Not surprisingly, many elected officials prefer complete immunity from the pesky voters. That’s why the public needs to keep our local elected officials accountable by demanding that they cease sabotaging voter initiatives and recalls  

Consider these examples of elected officials disregarding the citizens.

Mayor Lucy Vinis sabotages the independent city auditor measure

Mayor Vinis probably committed the most egregious act of election interference. Of course, voters were bewildered by the sudden appearance of two different auditor measures. The mayor, acting on behalf of the city bureaucrats, split the vote so that neither measure would pass. There was strong support for financial transparency and accountability. Had the mayor really supported financial accountability, she and the City Council could have enacted the watered-down version. But, in the end, nothing was done to insure that your tax dollars are properly spent.

Jim Torrey loses the election, but remains on the 4J School Board

The Eugene 4J School Board displayed its contempt of voters when they appointed Jim Torrey to the school board after he lost the election. Elections are district wide. Torrey is among the most widely known local politicians in Eugene, and yet voters picked a first time candidate with no prior experience. Despite this clear message from the voter, Torrey was reappointed to the board. I want to be clear on this matter: Torrey is not the villain in this story. It is the school board’s duty to honor the emphatic decision of the voters. Elections should matter.

Lane County bureaucrats kill a measure that would ban aerial spraying of herbicide

A third example is a 2018 county voter initiative that would have banned aerial herbicide spraying. The petitioners were notified that they had gathered enough verified signatures to place the proposed ban on aerial spraying of pesticides on the May ballot. But less than two hours later, the petitioners were told that the measure was invalid because Lane County Counsel Stephen Dingle had determined the measure couldn’t be placed on the ballot because of the separate vote requirement.  

This was an absurd decision in my view. The petitioner asked voters for a decision on one issue — should aerial spraying of pesticides be banned in Lane County. The county attorney did not raise any objection to the petitioners’ text until the petitioners had already gathered sufficient voter signatures to place the measure on the ballot — more than 25,000 signatures. This looks like lawyers and judges protecting agribusiness interests,  disregarding both the vote of the people and the health of our citizens.

Vinis’s interference spells the end of citizen initiatives

Your elected officials have probably killed the citizen initiative. Who in the future will recruit hundreds of volunteers and raise tens of thousands of dollars when our politicians sabotage the process? Without the citizen initiative, we would have had a nuclear reactor right outside of Eugene. We may not be able to stop the next outrage. Save the citizen initiative. Recall Eugene city councilors and county commissioners who defy the voters.

Paul Nicholson is a former Eugene city councilor and the founder of Bicycle Way of Life in Eugene.