‘Town Hall’ politicians blast Republicans; push for more school funding

State Senators Rod Monroe, Brad Avakian and Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard hosted the event – see what we learned when we stopped by …

State Senator Rod Monroe explains the intricacies of funding state highway improvement – such as outer SE Powell Boulevard.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Billed as a “Livable Communities Town Hall”, co-hosted State Senator Brad Avakian and Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, the event was scheduled to touch on issues ranging from land use to water resources, and renewable issues to public safety and emergency response.

Senator Brad Avakian had little to say – but surprise guest State Senator Rod Monroe wasn’t shy about speaking up, at the January 15 meeting held at the David Douglas High School library.

Randy Leonard spoke enthusiastically about the promise of bio-fuels, and how this new industry would help the state economically while reducing auto pollution.

Rod Monroe talked about the “Special Emergency Session” to be held by the Oregon legislature in February, calling it “an experiment” in annual sessions – currently prohibited by law in the Oregon State Constitution.

Many of the people present talked about their own personal concerns – the environment, low spending on education, and the upcoming elections. We were surprised to see a contingent supporting national candidate Lyndon LaRoushe espousing his fiscal policies. And, much of the conversation revolved around national issues, like the debt, spending, and foreign investment.

At times, the Town Hall sounded more like a political rally, as the trio blasted the Republican Party on the Oregon Kicker law, among other topics. Many of the state’s ills were blamed on Republican politicians.

Powell Boulevard concerns
A neighbor from the Centennial Neighborhood asked why SE Powell Boulevard, from I-205 east to Gresham, was still a two-lane road without sidewalks.

Senator Monroe took the question, and said he’d work with the City of Portland, until he was reminded that Powell Boulevard is a State highway.

“The problem is funding,” Monroe then explained. “There are a certain amount of federal dollars coming in; those dollars are minimal. The truth of the matter is, the amount of taxes and fees that are paid on each auto in the states of Washington or California. And our gasoline tax has not gone up for many years.”

Monroe went on, saying that Washington State has doubled the amount of money it collects – per cars driven, not population – than has Oregon, in the past few years. “You’ll notice a lot of work has been done in the state of Washington, but not in Oregon. We’re looking for ways to get projects going. They’re right at the top of my list. I’ve lived here all of my life and yes, [SE Powell Boulevard] is an absolute bottleneck.”

Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard spoke enthusiastically about alternative fuels, and gaining greater financial support for outer East Portland schools. Senator Brad Avakian, a panelist, mostly listened.

Sees support for schools
Because we could attend only a portion of the session, we later asked Commissioner Leonard what he felt were the main issues that came up.

“What I took away from the meeting the other night,” Leonard replied,  “was the overwhelming public support of the work Commissioner Sten and I are partnering on, to come up with the money to build David Douglas a new grade school using downtown urban renewal dollars.

“Both Senators Monroe and Avakian said they would support legislation in Salem next month to clear the way for us to give the David Douglas District the money needed for the school.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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