Despite opposition, Senator Lee Beyer sails through OTC nomination meeting

Senator Lee Beyer (bottom right) at the virtual Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday. Committee Chair Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) is in the upper left and Senator Kathleen Taylor (D-Milwaukie) is on bottom left.

“I’m concerned about the roads for Oregon’s economy… I like to say that Oregon’s economy moves on wheels and those wheels need something to roll on.”

-Lee Beyer

Yesterday afternoon, the Oregon Senate Interim Committee On Rules and Executive Appointments heard from the more than 60 of Governor Kate Brown’s nominees to various state boards and commissions. Among those nominees was outgoing state Senator Lee Beyer, who Brown has nominated to one of the five spots on the Oregon Transportation Commission much to the chagrin of many concerned Oregonians.

The OTC is a powerful body that oversees the Oregon Department of Transportation and their $5 billion budget.

Some leaders from prominent transportation and environmental groups see Beyer’s appointment as a step in the wrong direction, with some opponents saying Beyer’s appointment will “double down on the past” instead of looking to the future with “more inclusive, representative transportation decision-making.”

“In these divisive times, it is imperative that we continue to support and celebrate leaders like Senator Beyer.”

– Andrew Hoan, Portland Business Alliance

Beyer will replace Alando Simpson, a much younger, Black member of the commission. In the Portland Mercury yesterday, Beyer brushed off those concerns. “Transportation is transportation,” Beyer told the Mercury. He also said opposition to the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway expansion is “baffling” and “noted he is ‘not a complete believer’ in induced demand.”

Despite this surge of opposition, no senators on the Rules Committee took up concerns with Beyer’s appointment, and nobody spoke up in opposition to him at the meeting’s public comment period. After Beyer had a chance to introduce himself to the committee, they moved forward with his nomination as standard procedure.

One group did show support for Beyer in response to community backlash over his nomination: the Portland Business Alliance (an organization activists have deemed one of Portland’s ‘climate villains’). President and CEO Andrew Hoan submitted a letter of support for Beyer’s nomination, stating the senator is “perhaps the most prepared Oregonian to serve on the OTC,” having “proven to possess a deep knowledge of the transportation needs of the entire state and will collaborate with his colleagues and stakeholders to advance the balanced transportation solutions we will need in the 21st century.”

“Senator Beyer has unquestionably been one of Oregon’s most effective leaders advancing multi-modal transportation infrastructure, and modernization policy and funding proposals in Oregon. He has successfully worked to find the right balance between expanding transportation access, supporting the movement of goods, maintaining our infrastructure, and reducing carbon emissions,” Hoan writes. “In these divisive times, it is imperative that we continue to support and celebrate leaders like Senator Beyer.”

Advocates say Beyer’s “balance” between transportation objectives has been heavily weighted toward driving-centric infrastructure. Over his time in the Oregon senate, Beyer supported projects like the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program plan to expand I-5 from Portland to Vancouver and its failed predecessor, the Columbia River Crossing. He also shot down a bill to increase state funding for biking and walking infrastructure.

When speaking at yesterday’s Rules Committee meeting, Beyer addressed community apprehensions that he’s “only concerned about roads,” saying that claim is not true.

“I would draw people’s attention back to what we did in 2017,” Beyer said, referring to the transportation legislature House Bill 2017, which he was a primary champion of. Beyer said this bill included the “largest infusion in the state’s history in expanding transit,” a “solid commitment” to Safe Routes to Schools infrastructure and “dedicated funding to off-road bicycle paths.”

Though HB 2017 was a landmark transportation bill in Oregon that gave an unprecedented amount of funding to public transit and active transportation infrastructure ( a very low bar), it was overwhelmingly focused on freeway expansions and highway projects.

In his remarks (read them in full below), Beyer said he thinks roads are important for the state’s economy.

“One point that I would make – I am concerned about the roads and I’m concerned about the roads for Oregon’s economy. Oregon is an exporting state. A lot of the products that we use and find in our stores get there on a truck,” he said. “I like to say that Oregon’s economy moves on wheels and those wheels need something to roll on.”

Beyer is the second OTC pick from Governor Brown since November 2021 that doesn’t meet the demands of Sunrise PDX and the Youth vs. ODOT movement. The governor also didn’t heed the demands of over thirty organizations statewide that asked her to hold off on this selection.

That push was led by The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone who posted her reaction to Twitter this morning. “Governor Brown dismissing out-of-hand concerns from 30+ leading advocacy orgs and coalitions on this matter is really disheartening,” she wrote. “If she’s not listening to us, who’s she listening to?”


Beyer’s full comments to the committee are below:

lee-beyer-senate-rules-committee-comments

Opposition to Governor Brown’s OTC pick strengthens

Lee Beyer

An unprecedented level of opposition has formed against Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s nomination for a seat on the Oregon Transportation Commission.

The powerful, unelected, five-member body oversees the Oregon Department of Transportation and decides how to spend the state’s $5.1 billion transportation budget.

Brown nominated outgoing State Senator Lee Beyer to a four-year term that would start this coming January. The Senate Committee in charge of commission appointments meets tomorrow (Wednesday, 9/21) and advocates leading the charge against the nomination have kicked their effort up a notch.

A new statement and letter released today by The Street Trust includes a list of 31 organizations and over 175 individuals from across the state who’ve signed onto the opposition effort.

Here’s the list of organizations and their leaders:

1000 Friends of Oregon, Brett Morgan
Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation (BEST), Rob Zako
Climate Solutions, Vee Paykar
Oregon Environmental Council, Sara Wright
Oregon Just Transition Alliance, Joel Iboa
Oregon Walks, Ashton Simpson
Rogue Action Center, Dana Greenblatt
The Street Trust and The Street Trust Action Fund, Sarah Iannarone
Verde, Vivian Satterfield
Coalition of Communities of Color, Taren Evans
Getting There Together Coalition, Ariadna Falcon Gonzalez
Ardelis Inc., Brian Roddy
Bend Bikes, LeeAnn O’Neill
Bikabout, Megan Ramey
Bike Loud PDX, Kiel Johnson
Gorge Pedal, Armando Zelada
Lithic Technology, Robert Galanakis
Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association, Matchu Williams
Onward Oregon, Lenny Dee
OPAL Environmental Justice, Lee Helfend
Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets, Michelle DuBarry
Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, David De La Torre
Pedal Bike Tours, Todd Roll
Plugstart, Thor Hinckley
Portland: Neighbors Welcome, Aaron Brown
Portland Youth Climate Strike, Adah Crandall
Safe Routes to Schools, Valerie Rosenberg
Sunrise Beaverton, Amy Johnson
Sunrise PDX, Danny Cage
Sunrise Rural Oregon, Cassie Wilson

Those who oppose the Governor’s nomination say she failed to solicit recommendation and did not consult with stakeholders statewide. “They are also concerned that it does not address climate change or maintain racial diversity on the influential OTC. They note that outgoing Commissioner Alando Simpson is a younger Black business owner from Portland (ODOT Region 1); Brown’s proposed replacement is a retiree from Springfield (ODOT Region 2),” the statement reads.

The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone is spearheading the campaign against Beyer’s appointment. “In addition to implementing congestion pricing and tolling, the OTC will be overseeing billions of dollars of investment here in the coming decade,” she said in today’s statement. “To see these major projects implemented effectively and equitably, we need leaders who are connected to our region and representative of its increasing diversity.”

They’re asking for a pause on the process so the next administration can make this important appointment.

The nomination will be considered by the Senate Interim Committee On Rules and Executive Appointments at a meeting Wednesday at 2:30 pm.

View the letter and signatories here.

Transportation reform groups push Governor Brown to reconsider commission pick

Lee Beyer

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).

Governor Brown nominates Lee Beyer to Oregon Transportation Commission

Lee Beyer. (Photo: VoteLeeBeyer.com)

Lane County Democrat Lee Beyer is poised to be the next member of the Oregon Transportation Commission. Governor Kate Brown made the announcement as part of a slate of nominations made public on August 31st. If confirmed, Beyer would replace Commissioner Alando Simpson, whose term expires at the end of this year.

The five-member OTC is the most powerful transportation decision-making body in the state of Oregon. They are in charge of the Oregon Department of Transportation and tell the agency how to implement their policies and which projects to fund.

Senator Beyer, 74, lives in Springfield (near Eugene), has been a member of the Oregon Legislature since 2011 and has been involved in politics for nearly four decades. Sen. Beyer has also been a key figure in transportation policy at the state capitol. As a co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation he was a leading proponent of House Bill 2017, a major transportation funding package. Beyer is also a co-chair of the Joint Interim Committee on the Interstate 5 Bridge.

In 2013, Beyer voted in favor of funding for the ill-fated Columbia River Crossing and is an ardent supporter of its successor, the I-5 Bridge Replacement Program.

Seen at the Bike Town Hall on Saturday. (Photo: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland)

Also in 2013, Beyer said taxicab drivers should have the same exception to the cell phone law as police officers do. When bike advocates sought an expansion of bicycle funding on the 50th anniversary of the Bicycle Bill in 2021, Beyer said there just wasn’t enough money to do it. “It is not that the state is not supportive of bike paths,” Beyer said. “We would like to do more. Our primary responsibility however, is maintaining the freight and intercity traffic routes.”

Late last year, Willamette Week noted that Beyer was the sole Democrat to donate to the gubernatorial campaign of Betsy Johnson, a former state senator running as an independent. “I think she could make a good governor,” Beyer told Willamette Week.

Beyer’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate Rules Committee, but a date for that meeting hasn’t been finalized.

Transportation advocates seem poised to mobilize against the decision. Portland resident and Chair of Bike Loud PDX Kiel Johnson, was seen riding around Saturday’s Bike Town Hall event with “Reject Lee Beyer for OTC” scrawled across a sign attached to the rear of his pedicab.