Recently I was talking with someone about the November 3 ballot measure vote on a small (1/5 of a percent) payroll tax to support much-needed improvements to Salem's underfunded Cherriots bus system. Including evening and weekend service.
I said, "This is an existential election." Followed by, "Well, maybe existential isn't the right word." And then, "No, I can't think of a better word -- existential it is."
Though back in college I used to be an admirer of Sartre -- I loved "Being and Nothingness" -- I don't really mean that Salem voters should be wearing a beret, drinking expresso from little cups, smoking unfiltered cigarettes, and saying "Life... there is nothing to it except the meaning we ascribe to meaninglessness."
Rather, I see the vote on the payroll tax as being another in a series of watershed moments for Salem. Which reflect dynamics goings on in the entire country.
Opponents of the payroll tax have most of the money and power in this town. The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce has gobs of money to spend through its Create Jobs PAC, largely donated by giant corporations like Salem Health.
The anti-payroll tax campaign has been marked by the lies, half-truths, and sleaze that are the hallmark of Chuck Adams, the New Media NW consultant that the Create Jobs PAC has hired repeatedly.
So once again, the Chamber of Commerce is resorting to dirty tricks, even though they already have the advantage of way more money and power than the good-hearted, but comparatively destitute, supporters of the small payroll tax possess.
It's deja vu all over again.
Back in 2010, Marion County voters were asked to decide on Measure 24-292, an initiative to reform and improve county government. I blogged a lot about this, and wrote a piece for Blue Oregon called "GOP flack Chuck Adams sleazes up Marion County charter change campaign."
The Salem Chamber of Commerce is leading the opposition to the Measure. This is to be expected, given the extreme pro-development and anti-environment leanings of two current commissioners, Sam Brentano and Patti Milne. The Measure is threatening to those in the Marion County power structure, because it would make the commissioners more accountable to ordinary citizens rather than special interests.
Even so, I've been wondering why the "No on 24-292" campaign has been so especially sleazy. Opponents have been way over the top with their untruths and fabrications. Today I learned the likely reason: Chuck Adams is the consultant supporting the Salem Chamber of Commerce's political action committee.
Adams is a long-time strategist for right-wing causes who fell on hard times back in 2007 when he was booted by the Republican leadership. He's been involved in some nasty "Swiftboating" campaigns, and has been called a "hit man," "pit bull," and "flack." I can believe it, given the nasty deceptions in a letter opposing the Measure from Walt Beglau, the Marion County District Attorney, that arrived in voters' mailboxes last Saturday, May 1.
The same game plan is being used by the Salem Chamber of Commerce this time around. Hire hit man Chuck Adams again. Spend lots of money on deceptive mailings. Hope that voters can be fooled.
In one of my 2010 posts, I said something that, with a few changed words, applies equally well to the current ballot measure battle:
Whether it passes or fails, a Marion County citizen initiative which got on the May ballot after almost 6,000 citizens signed petitions to improve county government, has served one important purpose:
We've learned how far the existing power structure in Marion County is willing to stretch ethical bounds in order to keep the political system running along in its dysfunctional special-interest-favoring way.
Same old, same old... this time around.
So VOTE YES, damn it, if you live in Salem and haven't already. It just takes a first class stamp, though with Tuesday rapidly approaching, it'd be safest to drop off your ballot at a collection box.
The only way the broad community interest is going to be elevated over narrow special interests in this town is when voters get fed up with Salem's version of the 1% trying to control everything.
Voting is the equalizer -- the way ordinary citizens can say "no way" to lies, sleaze, and shady campaigning.
If the Good Guys win on this ballot measure, it will increase the chance that the general public will win out over self-serving special interests on other issues facing Salem.