Several labor organizations stepped up to defend light rail in Clackamas County, but judging by the vote results, no amount of effort would have defeated Measure 3-401. The anti-light rail ballot initiative passed by a 3-to-2 margin in a Sept. 18 special election, barring the County from spending any money on “public rail transit systems” without it being first approved by voters. Turnout was low, with only 39 percent of the County’s 217,518 registered voters casting ballots.
Neither side spent much money in the campaign, but Jesse Cornett, staffperson for the campaign opposing the measure, said if it wasn’t for union support, the measure would have passed by an even wider margin. Organized labor was the biggest backer of Positively Clackamas — the political action committee formed to oppose Measure 3-401. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, Teamsters Joint Council No. 37, and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 contributed $500 to $4,000 each. Unions also mailed literature about the measure to members living in Clackamas County, including Oregon AFSCME, after Local 350, its Clackamas County affiliated local, took a stand against the measure. [Local 350 represents 1,900 workers at three county departments, five municipal governments and three service districts in Clackamas County.]
“If you’re not building infrastructure, you’re not building jobs,” said UFCW Local 555 secretary-treasurer Jeff Anderson. Light rail spurs economic development, Anderson said —including retail, the sector that employs most Local 555 members.
Clackamas Rail Vote, the political action committee that supported 3-401, was funded mostly by out-of-state conservatives, including Nevada millionaire and self-described sex hypnotist Loren Parks. Parks donated $250,000 to two political action committees, which in turn provided $15,000 of in-kind support for advertising.
In the last 18 months, Clackamas County voters have also turned down a $130 million bond for upgrades to Clackamas Community College, struck down a $5 per year vehicle registration fee that would have paid for improvements to the Sellwood Bridge, and passed a citizen initiative requiring a county-wide vote before any municipal government can create an urban renewal district. The latest measure passed with 60.2 percent support, though turnout was relatively low, with 84,621 ballots cast (39 percent of registered voters).
In the short term, Measure 3-401’s impact will be largely symbolic, since TriMet’s Portland-Milwaukie “Orange Line” is already under construction, and there are no other current plans for light rail expansion. Clackamas County Commission contributed $20 million toward the line, which Cornett points out is less than 2 percent of the project’s cost. Most of the money to build the line is coming from the federal government.
BELOW: At the Sept. 4, Labor Day picnic at Oaks Park, Clackamas County Chair Charlotte Lehan gives a forceful defense of light rail when she’s accosted by a Measure 3-401 supporter with a video camera.