On Monday we hinted that the nomination of outgoing State Senator Lee Beyer to one of five spots on the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) would be very unpopular with transportation reform activists. And on Tuesday, the leaders of eight advocacy groups signed onto a letter to express specific grievances.
Their campaign isn’t focused on Senator Beyer, an establishment Democrat who rarely makes waves, it’s more about broader concerns relating to Governor Kate Brown and the OTC in general. Beyer’s appointment is just the latest illustration of Brown’s failure to connect the dots between climate change and transportation policy.
The OTC is an unelected, five-member board that is supposed to oversee the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), implement the agency’s policies, set its strategic direction, and act as a check-and-balance to make sure they’re headed in a direction that aligns with the values of Oregonians. Unfortunately, the OTC is often little more than a reliable rubber-stamp and cheerleader for ODOT leadership that encourages the agency’s worst tendencies.
The governor’s choice of a 74-year-old, white, political insider who supports freeway expansion projects flies in the face of the type of changes many advocates have been hoping to see for years. Lee Beyer would make the OTC older, less diverse (he would replace Alando Simpson who is Black and just 39 years old), and less progressive.
This isn’t the first time the composition of the OTC has come under fire. Governor Brown has “actively ignored” demands from climate change activism group Sunrise PDX to appoint a youth OTC member.
In this new letter, leaders from 1000 Friends of Oregon, Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation (BEST), Climate Solutions , No More Freeways, Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon Walks, The Street Trust, and Verde, say,
“Oregon needs leaders who are visionary, climate-smart, and capable of and committed to taking our state’s transportation system in a new direction… Oregon’s families, workers, and businesses deserve better. We demand access to a complete transportation system that is safe, reliable, affordable and accessible, and which helps us meet our economic goals. We know you understand the need for transportation to evolve in the 21st Century. Your Executive Order 20-04 directed state agencies to reduce and regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including those from transportation. Mindful of these considerations, we ask you to reconsider your current Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) appointment process and nominee.”
They outline five specific reasons for opposing Governor Brown’s choice and ask for a pause in the appointment process:
1) The OTC needs visionary, climate-smart, and diverse leadership in a time of crisis and change… Oregon’s transportation future must be decided by people who represent more perspectives and more of Oregon’s communities.
2) Your current OTC appointment process fails Oregonians… The process for making this appointment thus far has failed to meaningfully engage stakeholders and local jurisdictions, including those who have been effectively engaging with the OTC in the last few years, and undermines Oregon’s ideals of open and transparent government.
3) Representation matters… Replacing outgoing Commissioner Alando Simpson, a Black business owner from ODOT Region 1, with a white, retired legislator from Region 2 fails to ensure that the OTC is representative in as many ways as possible.
4) Pause the current OTC appointment process… Oregonians will not accept regressive investments in transportation any longer.
5) The OTC needs to be reformed… We are in discussions with state legislators interested in seeing the OTC better represent and
serve the interests of all Oregonians and the needs of the future.
The letter has been cc’d to all members of the Interim Senate Committee on Rules and Executive Appointments, who will vote to accept the governor’s nomination and make Beyer’s appointment official at an upcoming meeting that has not yet been scheduled.
Without more support from influential legislators inside the state capitol building in Salem, it’s unlikely this letter will change many minds that matter. A similar plea came from many of these same organizations in 2019 when Governor Brown had the opportunity to select a director of ODOT. But instead of choosing a leader who might have taken the agency in a new direction, Brown doubled-down on the past by picking someone who believes freeway widening is a smart climate change strategy.
It seems that, so far at least, Kate Brown thinks the best people to help us out of this climate change crisis are the same people that led us into it.
Download the letter here (PDF).