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John Charles responds to attacks made by Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder and Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette

At the July 14, 2011 JPACT meeting, accusations were made about John Charles and the Cascade Policy Institute. The response from John is below.


Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder
Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette

600 NE Grand Avenue
Portland, OR 97232

 

Dear Councilors Burkholder and Collette,

I am responding to the personal attacks that the two of you made at the July 14, 2011 JPACT meeting. Although there were many inappropriate comments made by numerous committee members, in the interest of brevity I will focus my concerns on just a subset of remarks made by the two of you.

 

Councilor Burkholder, you started it with your uninformed opinion about the so-called Drive Less/Save More (DL/SM) campaign, a topic that was not even on the formal agenda. After Randy Tucker’s legislative report, you stated:

 

“My understanding is that it was brought up by John Charles of Cascade Policy Institute.  And the stories I’ve heard is that they’ve received a significant boost in funding from the Koch brothers, a wealthy set of people who are funding climate denial kind of actions and anti-transit and anti-urban redevelopment issues, and so they have significant numbers of staff people who are out there fanning the flames and providing misinformation…”

 

In that entire paragraph there is only one factually correct statement: the issue was brought up by me. However, you seem to have no knowledge of the context, or what I actually said.

 

I brought up the DL/SM program in a legislative Ways and Means Subcommittee hearing on the ODOT budget. Although most of ODOT’s budget is characterized by restricted funds, I pointed out two discretionary programs: the 6-year-old DL/SM program, and the 17-year-old Transportation-Growth Management Grant Program. I suggested that regardless of how much merit they might have once had, in the case of DL/SM, “probably everything that can be said about driving less and saving more has already been said.”

 

I encouraged the subcommittee to euthanize both programs and re-allocate the roughly $8.5 million to other more productive endeavors, such as actually improving our road system.

 

My testimony ignited an avalanche of criticism of the DL/SM program from both sides of the aisle. Almost every legislator on the committee joined in, expressing outrage that we were spending valuable tax dollars on silly marketing campaigns. Eventually the issue became the topic of a front-page story by the Oregonian about the role of former State Senator Paul Phillips in fighting for the program, because so much of the money is funneled to his lobbying firm.  As Mr. Tucker informed you, the program eventually took a cut of roughly $500,000, which is minor by legislative standards.

 

From this brief legislative exchange, Councilor Burkholder now concludes that Cascade Policy Institute is receiving significant funding from the Koch brothers, which is threatening Metro’s transportation vision. There is no truth to this claim. We do not receive one penny from the Koch brothers, nor have we ever in the seven years that I have been CEO.

 

Our only link to the philanthropy of these gentlemen is that we have two college interns this summer who are “Koch Fellows”, courtesy of the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) in Washington, D.C.  The two of them are paid directly by IHS for an eight-week internship at Cascade, where they research and write on various topics, and in return, we provide them with training and experience. One of them has recently published a paper on Medicaid; the other is researching Renewable Energy Credits.

 

Your statement that I am personally “fanning the flames and providing misinformation” is a serious charge. To remind you, I have worked on transportation policy for over 20 years. I’ve served on numerous public advisory committees, have published hundreds of essays, and testified in front of dozens of governing boards. Please provide me, in specific detail, examples of where I have knowingly given “misinformation” to anyone. If you can’t do that within 10 business days, I’ll be expecting a public apology.

 

And if you are unwilling to provide an apology, then we will soon be having a legal conversation about the meaning of the term “defamation.”

 

Councilor Collette:  after Councilor Burkholder got done with his attack, you piled on by saying, “for those who don’t know the Koch family is a major oil industry family, so we know where at least that portion of the opposition is coming from – a real pro-automobile, oil-industry group.”

 

You perpetuated the falsehood that Cascade receives major funding from an outside source tied to the fossil-fuel industry, which in your mind explains everything about CPI testimony – my testimony – that you disagree with. I will be expecting a public apology from you as well.

 

I suggest that both of you carefully listen to the entire audio recording of the JPACT meeting. After your early comments, the meeting quickly turned into a marathon whining session about mean Republicans in Congress, climate “deniers”, and all the other alleged enemies of the vaunted Metro 2040 plan. You set the tone for, and encouraged, this unprofessional behavior.

 

I will note in closing that we received a letter dated June 14 from Metro Council President Tom Hughes extolling the virtues of bringing a “diversity of voices and experience to Metro.” He then goes on to invite us to participate in the Opt In campaign.

 

It is certainly true that Metro suffers from a lack of diversity, but that problem will not be solved by internet polling or offering small bribes to groups to receive “free surveys” of their memberships. The problem will only be solved when the Metro Council recognizes how severe the group-think mentality has become, and includes contrarian voices in meaningful conversations at the decision-making level.

 

I look forward to receiving your respective apologies, and to your joint commitment to raising the quality of public discourse at Metro by showing respect to the people with whom you disagree.

 

Sincerely,

 

John A. Charles, Jr.

President & CEO

 

 

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