I'm surprised how badly James Huffman, a dean emeritus of the Lewis and Clark law school, misinterpreted the highly successful Oregon land use system in a misguided opinion piece in today's Oregonian.
"Keep the messy politics: rule by government experts is a recipe for tyranny" reflects the overblown rhetoric of the sky is falling! Tea Party types. They see left-wing dangers, conspiracies, and constitutional threats hiding in the shadows everywhere.
Only problem is, when you ask them to specifically point them out, providing factual examples of dictatorial, tyrannical government over-reaching, they get tongue-tied. Why? Because their scary hobgoblins exist only in their own minds.
Huffman believes that "experts" (eek! knowledgeable people! frightening!) are controlling Oregon's land use decisions. Not the elected officials who hire and manage those experts. Not the voters who put those elected officials into office. Not the legislators who passed the land use laws those experts implement.
The Oregonian editorial board suggests a siren to warn when "legislators try to take over management of the state's natural resources" (“Water, trees and politics,” Feb. 16). On the opposite page, columnist Dave Lister describes how voters in Clackamas County are taking over bridge projects, urban renewal districts and light rail. Maybe there should be a siren to warn of such voter interference, as well.
How dare the elected representatives in Salem interfere with expert management of state-owned forests or Columbia River water! And surely the transportation and land-use planners know better than the voters of Clackamas County.
But wait. Don't we live in a democratic republic? Doesn't all government authority, at all levels of government, derive from the people?
Yes, Mr. Huffman, it does. And that's exactly what is happening in Oregon: government agencies are carrying out the will of the people regarding land use decisions.
Huffman doesn't offer up any examples of rogue "experts" doing nasty, illegal stuff. Professional planners act in accordance with laws, regulations, ordinances, and such. If they do something outside of legal bounds, those acts can be challenged in court.
Having read a number of Huffman's Oregonian opinion pieces about the evils of land use planning, I can confidently say that what he really is disturbed about is the very ideal that he extols: government authority derived from the people.
Senate Bills 100 and 101, which brought Oregon's land use system into being, were passed by a democratically elected state legislature, at the urging of a democratically elected Republican governor, Tom McCall.
Since, opponents of land use planning have tried to dismantle our state's demonstrably effective approach to preserving farm and forest land, while allowing room for cities to expand in a thoughtful fashion.
The people have spoken, most recently in 2007 with the passage of Measure 49 -- which markedly scaled back the "pave it over" aspirations of Measure 37 by a vote of 62% in favor. This rankles Huffman, who was strongly against Measure 49, opposing it via a misleading mailing.
After it passed, Huffman criticized democracy and the "tyranny of the majority." His dream is to have activist judges declare Oregon's voter-approved land use laws to be unconstitutional.
So it's bizarre that Huffman is now inveighing about a fantasized tyranny of experts when he has expressed such a strong desire for a tyranny of judges to step in and do away with Oregon's highly popular land use system.
If there's any tyranny Oregonians should be concerned about, it's the tyranny of extreme government-haters like Huffman who want our state to return to an archaic pioneer mentality where anybody can do anything they want with their property, regardless of how this affects other people, neighboring landowners, the environment, or irreplaceable farm and forest land.