Well, notwithstanding the title of this blog post, actually Salem Bridge Solutions should think more than twice about the wisdom of attempting to recall the six progressive members of the City Council who voted to kill the Salem River Crossing project last Monday.
I'll describe the more-than-two reasons below.
First, though, let's look at some evidence that Salem Bridge Solutions, a group that's pushed hard (fanatically, even) for a Third Bridge across the Willamette truly is seriously considering embarking on recall efforts.
A post on the Salem Bridge Solutions Facebook page brings up the subject of recall elections.
One person then questions why this should be pursued given the September 30, 2019 deadline for completing an Environmental Impact Statement -- which was going to be difficult to meet even if the City Council had voted to continue on with the bridge project last Monday.
Another person then leaves a comment that shows the motive of some Salem Bridge Solutions supporters is revenge, not getting the bridge built.
Mike Evans is one of the leaders of Salem Bridge Solutions. He tells another commenter that the group will be organizing to make recalls happen.
The recall kickoff is a West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting on Monday, February 18. It's questionable that this sort of blatant political organizing is allowed by the City of Salem ordinance governing neighborhood associations, but I'll leave this issue aside.
So now let's turn to what Salem Bridge Solutions should consider before it commits to attempting to recall some or all of the six city councilors who aroused their ire.
(1) Only three councilors currently can be recalled. The state Elections Division Recall Manual says that a local office holder can't be recalled until six months of their current term has expired. Progressive councilors Tom Andersen, Chris Hoy, and Jackie Leung were elected in 2018 and their terms began in January 2019.
So they couldn't be recalled until sometime in July.
That leaves councilors Cara Kaser, Sally Cook, and Matt Ausec -- who were elected in 2016. If Salem Bridge Solutions wants to shift the balance of power on the City Council, two progressives need to be replaced by two bridge supporters, which would turn the recent 6-3 vote against the Third Bridge to a 5-4 vote in favor of it.
(2) How liberal are the wards of the three recallable councilors? Salem Bridge Solutions needs to remember that Salem leans decidedly leftward, based on the results of the last presidential election (Clinton won in each of the eight wards).
Using Clinton's winning percentage as a proxy for how liberal a ward is, Cara Kaser and Tom Andersen represent the most left-leaning areas of Salem (tied for #1). Sally Cook represents the next most liberal ward (#2), followed by Chris Hoy's and Brad Nanke's wards (tied for #3), Matt Ausec's ward (#4), Jim Lewis's ward (#5), and Jackie Leung's ward (#6).
Thus it would be tough for the conservative Salem Bridge Solutions group to win two of three recall elections among the councilors currently eligible to be recalled. Plus, I suspect many voters wouldn't take kindly to recall efforts aimed at two of the three women on the nine-member City Council (Mayor Bennett is the ninth).
Councilor Ausec seemingly would be the group's best shot at a recall victory. But even so...
(3) A replacement election would follow any successful recalls. Above is what I found on the City of Salem web site regarding vacancies on the City Council.
The two sections don't make sense, perhaps because of a typo. Seemingly one section should refer to what happens if a vacancy occurs more than one year to the next primary election, and the other section should refer to what happens if a vacancy occurs less than one year to the next primary election.
But both sections speak of "more." Which is confusing.
Logically it seems that a special election would be required if there's more than a year to the next primary election, and a majority of the City Council would appoint a replacement if there is less than a year to the next primary election.
Regardless, Salem Bridge Solutions needs to keep in mind the possibility that even if they're successful in recalling one progressive councilor, that still would leave a progressive majority on the Council that might be able to appoint a temporary successor.
And if a special election is held, obviously there's no guarantee that a pro-bridge candidate would be elected.
(4) It'd be a tough sell to argue why a councilor should be recalled. The Recall Manual says that a petition to recall a local elected official has to state the reason, which appears on the recall ballot along with a statement from the official about why they should remain in office.
Good luck with that, Salem Bridge Solutions.
Each of the six progressives on the City Council made a commitment to oppose a Third Bridge during their election campaign. Last Monday these councilors fulfilled that pledge. I deeply doubt that voters are going to consider that keeping a campaign promise is a recallable offense.
Salem Bridge Solutions seems to live in a political bubble of their own making that reflects their own passionate desire to have the Salem River Crossing, or Third Bridge, built at a cost of half a billion dollars or so -- which almost certainly would require tolls on both the new bridge and the two current bridges, plus increases in various taxes.
But they need to remember that other people in Salem are just as passionate about other things. Such as, not building a wasteful bridge that studies show wouldn't reduce congestion, just shift it from one part of town to another. Tom Andersen made the case against the Salem River Crossing in this video of his remarks at last Monday's City Council meeting.
And people also are passionate about not having elected officials removed from office for no good reason. Which gets me to my last reason...
(5) Pushback against recalls would be powerful. I know how strongly my fellow liberals feel about their hard work over a series of City Council elections paying off with a 6-3 progressive majority on the council. Believe me, they will not react meekly to recall attempts by a conservative single-issue group, Salem Bridge Solutions.
Especially since Salem Bridge Solutions didn't support any candidates in the 2018 election other than incumbent councilor Jim Lewis.
Tom Andersen and Chris Hoy were unopposed in their re-election campaigns. If Salem Bridge Solutions wants to win votes in the City Council, they need to do it the old fashioned way: by winning elections, not by trying to recall people who won their council seats fair and square.
I also suspect that independents and even many Republicans would react strongly against recall efforts whose only basis is that a public official voted in accord with a campaign promise. People can smell unfairness a mile away, and what Salem Bridge Solutions is considering doing reeks of it.
Even more lastly... just noticed a Facebook post by State Representative Paul Evans that shares a press release from his office regarding a proposed formation of a bridge district in Marion, Polk, Linn, and Yamhill counties. This is the sort of positive effort that Salem Bridge Solutions should be focused on -- not on the negativity of recall elections.
SBS uses bullying, insults, and deceit to try to achieve their goals. This latest ploy fits right into their program.
Posted by: Norm Baxter | February 15, 2019 at 09:30 PM
Someone needs to start a petition drive for West Salem to incorporate. Let's see how adamant they are about the damn third bridge when the cost burden is more fairly apportioned to them.
Posted by: NotEvenWrong | February 19, 2019 at 09:07 AM
After 13 years of wasted expense and efforts, rationality has finally emerged. At the 2/18 WSNA meeting, a new and improved understanding of the nature of the problem and what should be done became apparent. The 3rd bridge never had a chance without significant federal funding. Due to the facts that other Oregon projects were more in need of financing, it was known that fewer federal dollars would be available for future state transportation projects, and Salem lacked the political clout to obtain meaningful support, this project has always been "dead in the water". Salem residents would never willingly provide sufficient funds for a 3rd bridge that would only have a significant impact on a small proportion of them. The cost would approximately equal all of Salem's road improvement budget for 20 years. Salem simply could not afford it. Most everyone agrees that there will eventually be sufficient public frustration that will compel action so there will now be, after the symbolic clubbing that supporters received when Council killed the existing proposal, a revised approach that takes reality into account. Evidence of this came from Mike Evan's statement that they had broad political support. While there does not seem to have been any solid financial commitments, one can assume that the support was merely rhetoric but the recognition (by Evans and others) that political support is important is a good sign. Also, Representative Paul Evans has introduced a House Bill to form a taxing district. While this gesture is probably going nowhere, it also suggests that there is now a recognition that financing is the real problem and that Salem residents can only be counted on to make contributions commensurate with the anticipated overall benefits. Representative Evans should be primarily focused on lobbying for state and federal financial support. Unfortunately, the game has changed. Now that the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) has been reanimated and the legacy of the new Director of ODOT (Matt Garrett is retiring) will be defined by the CRC, it will be nearly impossible to get ODOT's enthusiastic support. Finally, as one speaker suggested, it is time to go to ODOT and be more insistant that they help. This is absolutely appropriate. It has been and will continue to be their responsibility to provide safe and efficient roads to facilitate public travel and to support commerce. They have failed abysmally. As to recall efforts, Councilor Kaser need not fear. Her charisma, character, and honest attempts to represent all of her constituents will overcome any threat posed by those who will have, hopefully, become aware that the best thing to do at this point is to move forward. (This is getting too long - even I am getting bored - maybe, in a subsequent writing, I will provide more about ODOT's negligence and failures and the role of the local estate industry. Thanks for the forum, Brian)
Posted by: Kurt | February 19, 2019 at 02:28 PM