Powerful State Senator Objects to Use of ODOT Logo in TV Spot for Metro Transportation Measure

Sen. Betsy Johnson asks the state transportation agency to remove its logo from ads for $4 billion tax.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) wrote today to the director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, Kris Strickler, taking exception to the use of ODOT's logo in advertising for Metro's $4 billion transportation measure, which is on the November ballot.

That measure would build a new MAX line from Portland to Bridgeport Village and make investments aimed at increasing safety and decreasing congestion in 17 transportation corridors, with a focus on addressing historical inequities. Some of the biggest projects would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into ODOT-owned roads, including Tualatin Valley Highway, 82nd Avenue, and McLoughlin Boulevard.

But ODOT, as is the case with any public agency, cannot take a position on ballot measures.

"The campaign seeking to pass a new payroll tax (Measure 26-218) for Metro regional government is prominently featuring the official logo of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)," Johnson wrote to Strickler this morning. "The inclusion of the logo leaves the impression that ODOT is involved with and supportive of the tax measure—which, of course, is not the case. Specifically, the logo appears on the hard hat of a former agency director who is appearing in the advertising."

That former director, Grace Crunican, who led ODOT from 1996 to 2001, is indeed a supporter of the Metro measure and appears in the Let's Get Moving campaign's ads wearing an ODOT hard hat. Oregon elections law prohibits the use of state resources, including logos and seals, for political purposes.

"In full disclosure, I am opposed to the measure and have said so publicly," Johnson continued. "But that should not diminish my concern—and that of others who have raised it with me—that the campaign is using the logo without permission and in an inappropriate manner. I am requesting that you immediately notify the campaign that the use of the ODOT logo is not authorized and that they immediately stop using it in their campaign advertising."

Johnson, who, along with her colleagues Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) and Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha), has issued statements opposing the Metro measure, is not just another lawmaker.

Related: State Treasurer Tobias Read, a Democrat, Will Vote Against Metro's Transportation Measure

First elected to the House in 2000, she has long been known for grilling agency directors about their spending and performance, a line of questioning that is particularly pertinent in her role as co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state's budget.

"In these polarized political times, maintaining trust among taxpayers in our government institutions has never been more paramount," Johnson continued. "And while the appearance of the state agency logo in a political advertisement may seem like a small matter, it speaks to a larger perception among many that government insiders have their thumbs on the scale and are allowed to do things others may not. In this case, creating the false impression that a state official and state agency is encouraging voters to support a tax increase to fund transportation projects."

The Let's Get Moving campaign and ODOT did not immediately provide responses to Johnson's email.

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