Two Political Action Committees Plan to Push Back Against Portland Charter Reform Ballot Measure

One of them is a PAC launched by Commissioner Mingus Mapps last fall explicitly to support charter reform.

Mingus Mapps. (Mick Hangland-Skill)

City Commissioner Mingus Mapps launched a political action committee last fall explicitly to promote charter reform.

WW has learned that Mapps has reversed course, and he says the PAC he formed now plans to air criticisms of a charter reform measure set to appear on the November ballot.

The Charter Review Commission, composed of 20 appointed Portlanders tasked with rethinking our city government, released its final reform package earlier this month. The changes that the City Attorney’s Office will craft into one question include rank-choice voting, the creation of four districts with three council members elected per district, and scrapping the commission form of government for a mayor-city manager formation where city council members work as legislators while the city manager handles administrative tasks and oversees bureaus. The commission chose to bundle all the proposals into a single ballot measure.

At issue for Mapps’ political action committee, called Ulysses PAC, is the bundling of all reforms into a single ballot question instead of parsing them out into individual questions.

“When I look at this package, I see four, if not more, major reforms packed into this proposal. Some of these ideas I clearly support, some I have questions about, some I think are probably bad ideas,” Mapps says. “Portlanders at least need to have a chance to vote on these ideas separately. Packing them all together literally makes it impossible for me to sort out whether this is going to help the city more or hurt.”

Mapps tells WW there are parts of the measure he thinks are “bad ideas.” He is especially concerned by multi-member districts. “As you layer on these complications after complications…I think it actually might make our government less functional.”

He says that while he and the PAC are still in discussions over how they intend to push back, they’ll likely take a softer approach by hosting educational forums and bringing in experts.

The other PAC will take a far blunter approach.

The three directors of the soon-to-form oppositional PAC, which hasn’t settled on a name yet, are Vadim Mozyrsky, who unsuccessfully bid to unseat Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty this spring and serves on the charter review commission, and two longtime staffers for former mayor Bud Clark, Chuck Duffy and Steve Moskowitz.

“We are a group of citizens who favored a change in our city’s form of government but see multiple problems with this proposal,” Duffy tells WW. “Our campaign will clearly set forth those problems and explain our reasons to vote no.”

Mapps and Mozyrsky both overwhelmingly support dropping the commission-form of government for a city-manager style. The commission style is widely seen as an antiquated model unfit for modern cities, resulting in deadlocks between territorial council members protecting their own bureaus from encroachment. It’s no longer used in any other major US city.

But neither support the bundling of all three proposed major changes to the charter into one measure.

Proponents of the charter reform package say the bundled changes would offer more equitable voice to the groups who have historically been quieted in Portland politics, and better enable diverse candidates with less political clout the ability to seek office in their districts.

Melanie Billings-Yun, one of the charter review commissioners who voted for the proposal, says in talking to the community, the biggest demand she heard was for district representation.

“There was a huge demand for district representation, especially from the east side,” Billings-Yun said. “People 82nd and above felt that they had all of these issues and no one cared. People were caring about the trash in Old Town, but no one cared about the huge amount of trash they were experiencing, and the potholes and the street racing.”

State law mandates that any initiative petition to appear on a ballot must only include one subject in its question.

But the city attorney’s office thinks the package could meet legal muster. Among its justifications: A ballot measure referred by a charter commission isn’t included in the state definition of an ‘initiative petition’ that’s subject to single-subject law.

“We have found no case law defining ballot measures referred by a local government—including ballot measures referred by the Charter Commission—as initiative petitions,” a March memo from the city attorney’s office reads.

While two political action committees gear up to oppose the ballot measure, another political action committee forming intends to advocate for it.

Some Portlanders received emails in mid-June asking them to donate to a PAC called Portlanders for Charter Reform. (That PAC does not yet appear on a state database, but it’s being spearheaded by Building Power for Communities of Color.)

“We are leading the emerging campaign to pass charter reform in November along with a wide range of stakeholders,” says BPCC managing director Jenny Lee. “We look forward to sharing more information with a public launch next month. This is the first step to creating a more accountable, effective, and representative city government in Portland.”

A handful of civic and business leaders pledged to match up to $50,000 in contributions to that campaign including Stan Amy, the co-founder of New Seasons.

“Many groups have tried create a more accountable, effective and responsive government in Portland in the past—and all have failed. This year we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to finally make it happen,” the email read, in part. “We don’t know that we’ll see a better opportunity to do it in our lifetimes, so we have decided to dig deep to support the launch of the campaign in a big way.”

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