Political analysts continue to dissect Tuesday’s election results, and there are plenty of interesting threads to tease out.
What does New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s dominant win portend for his viability as the GOP presidential nominee in 2016? How would he fare against Hillary Clinton if she were to win the Democratic nomination?
In Virginia, the burnout of tea party darling Ken Cuccinelli was on the minds of cable news talking heads. They wondered whether the radical right has run its course (it hasn’t) and if the commonwealth hints at greater soul-searching ahead for the GOP (unlikely).
The real prism into the conservative soul wasn’t on the East Coast, though. It was in a sparsely populated region on the Pacific Coast.
In Oregon’s Curry County, 58 percent of voters rejected a three-year levy to pay for law enforcement. They and voters in neighboring Josephine County had rejected similar levies in the spring.
This is timber country, or at least it used to be before environmental concerns quashed harvests on federal land more than a decade ago. Today the counties are home to beautiful natural vistas and heartbreaking poverty. The unemployment rate tops 10 percent and the poverty rate runs even higher.
It’s also deeply Republican. President Obama won only 38 percent of the vote in that part of Oregon compared to 55 percent statewide. Many of the people fancy themselves proudly independent pioneers who could thrive if only the government would stay out of their way.
They especially don’t like taxes. Curry and Josephine counties have the lowest local property taxes in the state, only about 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Curry County’s levy would have tripled the rate to raise $3.2 million over three years. The county desperately needs that money to fund sheriff’s patrols. Right now, it can afford only six deputies to cover 1,600 square miles. In Josephine County, the jail released more than three dozen prisoners accused of sex crimes, robbery and assault because it couldn’t afford to hold them.
When a woman called 911 while her abusive ex-boyfriend pounded on her door, the dispatcher repeatedly told her that no one could come help. The ex ultimately pried open the door and sexually assaulted her. The Josephine County sheriff warned victims of domestic abuse, “You may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.”
Such is the price of anti-tax ideology gone too far.
Yet the same party that wants to shred entitlement programs, deny people health care and cut food stamps doesn’t complain when the handouts come their way.
Curry and Josephine residents wailed when the federal government ended a temporary funding program meant to help former logging communities. They cried so loudly that Congress renewed the temporary program yet again, and Curry County scored $1 million from Washington.
The Oregon Legislature this year gave the governor authority to intervene in counties that won’t pay for even basic public safety services. He can work with local officials to impose a tax increase without voter approval, and state taxpayers will match every dollar raised locally. It’s a sweet deal, and it helps explain the vote on Tuesday. Why pay for it law enforcement yourself when you can stick liberal taxpayers in Portland and Eugene with half of the bill?
That’s neither libertarian nor conservative. It’s welfare abuse of the worst sort, suckling at the public teat not because you have fallen on hard times and need a safety net but because you simply refuse to pay for what you want.
Gov. John Kitzhaber should decline to intervene and let local residents live with the consequences. Try the grand conservative experiment and see how well it really works.
They don’t want government? They don’t want law enforcement? They want women left without protective services and then leave meth labs to operate without fear of discovery? So be it. Maybe after a year of that and of businesses fleeing to communities with higher taxes and better quality of life will change some voters’ minds.
Chris Trejbal writes custom editorials and opinion pieces at Opinion in a Pinch. He is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.
Image source: U.S. Forest Service