Last week, Oregon had our primaries. Bernie Sanders and Trump won big and so did Ted Wheeler, Portland’s next Mayor. In honor of this change of leadership in our city, I am publishing a Q&A with Ted Wheeler that I did a few weeks ago. Read, and send me comments/opinions.
- What is the role and day to day job description of the State Treasurer? Multnomah County Chair?
As State Treasurer, my primary responsibility is to manage the state’s finances. The Department of Revenue brings money in (mostly through taxes) and the Legislature decides how the money is spent. Treasury handles the money in between. This means serving as the central bank for state agencies, issuing debt through bonds, and overseeing a roughly $90 billion portfolio of the state’s investments. The funds in that portfolio include the Public Employee Retirement Savings Fund (you may have heard it referred to as PERS), the Common School Fund, and a few others. I’m really proud to say that as Oregon’s Treasurer, I helped Oregon become one of the top-performing investment portfolios in the country, and rated top among our peers. Treasury also manages the Oregon 529 program, which helps families save (and earn investment returns on those savings) to pay for college. Treasury is in the process of creating three new programs, of which I am very proud. The first is expanding the 529 program to include ABLE Accounts, which allow people with disabilities to save without endangering their social services benefits. The second is the Oregon Retirement Savings Plan, which will provide a simple option for people who don’t have a retirement savings plan at their job to be able to save for their own retirement. The third is setting up a new investment pool for local governments to make long term investments with money they don’t need to spend right away; we believe this will mean higher long-term returns for those local governments. As Treasurer, my job is help the State remain in good financial health. To me, that includes thinking about ways we can leverage our financial expertise and resources to help all Oregonians.
As Multnomah County Chair, I presided over a board (the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners) that included myself and four other County Commissioners. Each Commissioner has a district within the County, but as Chair I was elected county-wide. While I had an important leadership role, as members of the Board, we decide the direction of the county together — each with one vote (mine had exactly the same weight as every other Commissioner’s) — so it was really important to build consensus among my colleagues, in order to pass the budget, enact laws through ordinances, or do any of the other important work of the County. The County delivers many services, including health services, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office, housing services, animal services, and libraries.
- I have become very interested in the Homeless crisis in Portland. What are your thoughts on how we can combat this issue?
I believe that we cannot call ourselves a progressive city when people are living and dying on our streets. I view the homelessness crisis unfolding on our streets as a humanitarian crisis. I think solving the homelessness crisis will take a lot of compassion and patience as we figure out how to address the complicated reasons why so many Portlanders are sleeping under bridges, in our parks, and on sidewalks. There are many complex root causes for homelessness, including mental illness, drug addiction, and economic issues. There’s a lot of good work already being done at Multnomah County through A Home for Everyone, the Welcome Home Coalition, and countless non-profits and faith-based organizations that provide services like transitional housing, food, shelter, clean clothes, and other necessities. I would continue and support that good work as mayor. Where I differ from many other mayoral candidates is that I do not see tent camps as a long term solution. I believe we need to get people indoors, where they can get the services they need, and in the long term, we need to get people into permanent housing.
What service providers tell me is that they’re seeing more families in shelters who have been displaced from their homes because rents are high and vacancies are low. I’ve committed to increasing shelter beds significantly by the end of my second year in office if I’m elected mayor, and to enacting a Tenants’ Bill of Rights to keep people in their homes.
- You are running for Mayor. What is your ten year plan for the city?
Every time I attend a forum or debate (I’ll have attended about 30 by the May 17 primary, including one at Lincoln High School), I get asked what my 10-year plan is, what my hundred-day plan is, or what my three-point plan is. This city isn’t lacking for bright ideas, or more 10-point plans. What this city is lacking in is basic leadership — and that’s what I’ll bring to the mayor’s office. My career in leadership has always been about bringing people together and getting things done. That being said, I plan on implementing a number of measures during the first half of my administration. I’ve made the commitment that by the end of my second year as mayor, there will be enough shelter beds for every person sleeping on our streets who wants to come inside (at the last official HUD Point-in-Time homeless count, numbers show we had 1,887 people sleeping on our streets in Portland, Gresham, and Multnomah County). It means building more shelter space, and calling on the business, non-profit and faith community. We can prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place by offering renters more protections. I’ve proposed a Tenants’ Bill of Rights, which includes a Just Cause Eviction ordinance (similar to the 18-point ordinance in Seattle) and an office of landlord-tenant affairs at City Hall to enforce the law. I’ve also proposed a jobs plan called the 25 by 25, which outlines our city’s strategy to get Portlanders skilled up for the roughly 25,000 high-skill jobs that pay at least $25 an hour that are expected to come to our region by the year 2025.
- Please share your overall thoughts on the city of Portland? (Views, what you like and dislike, what you want to see change etc.)
I love Portland. It’s the single biggest reason I want to be mayor. I grew up here, my wife and I have chosen to raise our daughter here, and there’s no where else I’d want to live. In many ways, Portland is on fire. People want to move here, people want to work here, and people want to raise their families here. We’re on all the right top ten lists. But the city is at a turning point. We’re going from being a small city — some people even compare it to a very large high school — to a big city. About 20,000 new people are moving here every year. Even with all those positive things happening, we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t admit that Portland is facing some serious challenges. We have a homelessness emergency unfolding on our streets, we have a housing and rental crisis, and we’re six years into an economic recovery that too many Portlanders aren’t participating in. Our high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the country. It’s these challenges that I want to make progress on as Portland’s next mayor.
- I attend Lincoln High School. Please tell me what Lincoln has done for you (positive and negative).
Before I was Multnomah County Chair, before I was Oregon State Treasurer, the first elected office I ever held was actually as senior class president at Lincoln High School. The communication and leadership skills I learned through that experience serve me well, even to this day.
Lincoln prepared me for the dynamic and meaningful career I’ve experienced over the last 30 years, and the career that I’m still pursuing today. I got a world class education at Lincoln High School, and when I walked into my first college class at Stanford University, I felt well prepared. When I went to grad school at Columbia University and Harvard University, I felt well prepared by the education I received at Lincoln High School. Many of the people I met at Lincoln are still close friends of mine. Decades later, we still sit around sharing ideas with each other and talking about the things we care about. Being on the swim team at Lincoln helped me develop the deep appreciation for staying healthy that I have today.
Because we are in the middle of semester finals, I will be taking a brief break and restarting in June (the beginning of my High School’s summer).