As a Washington County resident who has expressed concern over the anti-car movement centered in Portland, I can understand resistance in Clackamas County to Portland expansion there. At the same time I see in Washington County an ability to deal with the inevitable growing population that is not as extreme as Portland’s approach.

I don’t believe Clackamas County can avoid the population growth of the metro area. The question is how will it deal with it? While the thought of the Portland model may not be acceptable, the full opposite, rejecting all metro initiatives could lead to larger problems. Discussing some of these problems is only meant to bring in the views of an outside observer who has no stake in Clackamas County. Hopefully they will be of some use.

Recently both Hillsboro and Milwaukie sought single A baseball teams for their respective cities. As has happened for decades, the Washington County city was more successful than the Clackamas County one. While the deal is sealed for Hillsboro, Milwaukie recently abandoned the effort.

This pattern of economic success favoring Washington County has been especially evident in the area of jobs creation. In the last year, Washington County reported a net gain of 3,700 jobs while Clackamas County had a net gain of only 100. Washington County’s population is about 40 percent greater than Clackamas County’s, but that comes nowhere near accounting for the huge job creation difference.

When we look at light-rail history we see similar differences. Westside light rail has been in place since 1998, and ridership has more than doubled in that time. On the other hand there seems to be wide spread resistance to any light rail at all in Clackamas. The just-completed approval of Measure 3-401 is being widely interpreted as a victory for anti-light-rail forces.

When we look at the situations of the counties in terms of geography, location and population trends, it’s hard to see why the counties differ so greatly in economic success. Both counties border the largest city in the state. Both have about the same median income and high school diploma rate. Both have medium-sized cities but also large agricultural resources. One possible explanation lies in attitudes towards government. Clackamas County has become increasingly conservative compared to Washington County. Conservative thinking today is most strongly tied to the reduction in size and influence of government.

In 2004, while Washington County voted for John Kerry by an 8 percent margin over President Bush, Clackamas County favored Bush 51-48 percent. Clackamas did vote for President Obama in 2008 by 54-44 percent, but this was less than half the 60-38 percent approval margin in Washington County.

Clackamas County has also been the home of some of the more extreme anti-government individuals, including Bill Sizemore and Lon Mabon.

Perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of the anti-government, anti-tax mentality was the battle over the Sellwood Bridge reconstruction tax. Personally, I felt it was a no-brainer for the Clackamas residents to approve an automobile registration tax to contribute to needed reconstruction of the main bridge many of the residents use to access Portland for work and shopping. A good connection between Clackamas County and the prosperous Westside would be good economically for all of Clackamas County. But county voters turned it down cold.

It’s obvious why people might have a desire for less government. Government adds more layers of bureaucracy, more programs that may not be of direct benefit to many people, and, of course, more taxes.

But at the same time, an adequately funded and supported government provides the infrastructure that is needed for economic development to bloom. While the relation between the more government-friendly environment of Washington County and its higher level of economic success can’t be directly proved, it seems plausible.

Whether true or not, Clackamas County is getting the reputation that it doesn’t want to be part of the metro area and pay to create the transit infrastructure needed to accommodate population growth. But it is part of the metro area, and the population is coming.

Will economic development and jobs continue to flow where growth is being more actively accommodated? Will Clackamas County end up a congestion hive with inadequate roads and transit?

Clackamas County was where Oregon started, the end of the Oregon Trail. That is a magnificent past. But its future prosperity may well depend on whether Clackamas County residents will increase their support of government-based infrastructure and planning. Portland extremes are not a fit for Washington or Clackamas counties. But the opposite extreme will not solve the very real issues that are upon all of us in the metro area.

Walt Hellman is a resident of Hillsboro.

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