The board of Multnomah County Commissioners has picked Lew Frederick as a state legislator, after a nail-biting vote this morning. He beat Karol Collymore, an aide to County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, and Eddie Lincoln, a union organizer at Portland Community College, to the seat.
Frederick stressed his experience in the district as a TV reporter and communications director for Portland Public Schools in his opening remarks, while Collymore said she is distinct for her "visible body of work in Portland." Discussion focused on an extensive range of topics, including raising more revenue for the cash-strapped legislature; ways to move less of the district's young men into the prison system; the best way to create more jobs in the district; and school inequity. In case you weren't following the madness on El Twitto, #hd43, I've given a roundup of the discussion after the jump. It really was a fun time, with the chamber filled with Tweeters, all offering their different perspectives.
"I represented the district for three terms and have no doubt that it's an active, engaged community," said County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, voting for Collymore. "I have no doubt that any of you could represent the district well. But today I have the opportunity to get more young women involved in the legislature."
"Growing up in Miami, it was rare that we'd have one decent candidate," said County Commissioner Jeff Cogen. "Some have suggested that the Democratic Precinct captains have voted, and we should rubber-stamp their decision. I fundamentally disagree with that." "Having said that, I also want to address something about me personally—some people have suggested that I should recuse myself because one of the candidates works for me," Cogen continued. But this isn't a conflict of interest, because he wouldn't gain from it, personally, he said. "I was elected as someone who would make difficult decisions," said Cogen. Voting for Collymore because of her record in the district, saying "I think an innovative approach is what the legislature needs more than anything else right now."
"As a legislator I represented the state as a whole," said County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, voting for Frederick. "I think there are some real decision points about who knows district 43 best."
County Commissioner Diane McKeel voted for Frederick.
"There's a primary coming up, and I'd encourage each and every one of you to participate in that primary and run for this office," said Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler, casting the deciding vote. "From my perspective the most important issue is acknowledgment of the reality that we are a poor state."
"Lew, you gave the best answer in terms of how to bring our families up," Wheeler concluded.
Collymore had nothing to say after the vote, but congratulated Frederick on the win.
"The county commissioners did a real fine job," said Lincoln, who also lost out. "But I've learned a lot from this process and it gives me some issues to research, so that I'm prepared in a special way or next time around."
The process began with each candidate introducing themselves for five minutes.
"This is truly a historic moment for me and I'm truly thrilled to be a part of this process," said Lincoln, who said he got to know Portland by driving a Trimet bus through his neighborhood. "I've watched the house prices soar, and families, including my own, struggle to keep up." His two sons, a light rail technician and a political science major, graduated from Benson and Jefferson High School, respectively. "Our streets are full of students who were overlooked because of poor education funding," he said.
"Times are tougher now than they have ever been," he continued. "I'm seeking this appointment because it's time for me to watch over the mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers who watched over me as I was growing up in this district. Now is the time for me to stand up and do my part. I can fight for them, now."
Collymore went second. "As a proven progressive, my values are reflected in the things I've done in my career," said Karol Collymore, pointing out that County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, by coincidence, was "my age, when she sought and won this house seat." "I am distinct because I have a visible body of work from my time in Portland," she continued, saying she has created urban farms in Portland, a cellphone recycling program, a new library in Kenton, a new farmer's market in St.Johns, and a domestic violence center opening next spring. Her increase in the motor vehicle rental tax, and menu labeling policy. "This work shows that I can lead successful projects, take direction, and work in collaboration for the community."
"Communication at its best is a negotiation process over which people come to understand each other over a period of time," said Frederick, going third, telling the commissioners he wanted to talk about what he's learned through his work in the community. "I've been lobbied by special interest groups, relentlessly, in some cases." "Spending 30 years in two jobs I developed an instinct to question the line and look for the deeper story," he continued. "And I have a pretty good idea who to ask when I need more information." "I've seen how slowly government moves at times, and that makes me all the more impatient to get started." He said his broad support "comes with a faith that if I am in the room when decisions are made, the community's voice will be there in the room, too."
Lincoln said the first policy he would propose would be to divert the state kicker into a rainy day fund. Collymore said she agreed, "I believe it's already in the works, currently, in the democratic caucus," she said. "I also would work with the groups working on the BPA reduction in chemicals for kids under 3." Frederick said he wanted to introduce bills to break up large government contracts into smaller chunks, so that money could be kept in Oregon and bring jobs in the district.
Discussion turned, briefly, to state pre-emption of County initiatives, before the candidates discussed the upcoming ballot initiatives to get rid of tax hikes on the wealthy and rich corporations. What if the taxes go down?
"It is going to be a huge blow," said Frederick, if the measures succeed. "It's time for us to take the message to the public and to the state, to look at all forms of resource development that we can."
"I would hold harmless those who need the support the most," said Lincoln. "I hate to think of the number of homeless who would be added."
Collymore said she felt the business leaders should be brought back to the table for another go, and added that tobacco taxes were another option.
County Commissioner Judy Shiprack asked about the district's disproportionate prison population.
"Educational funding, preparing young people for the global economy would have an opposite effect," said Lincoln. "The economy is really driving the misbehaving."
"The first thing that needs to be evaluated is how many people are going to prison with mental health and addiction problems," said Collymore. "Jail and prison are not a place for those folks—they need separate services, and a lot of the time they are going to prison because they've done something because of their addiction problems." She said rehabilitation after jail is a priority, too—probation "that's more than just let me come and check on you every few weeks."
"If our goal is to look at crime, we need to start looking at treatment," said Frederick. "John Kroger, the attorney general, has really been looking at this, at the idea of focusing on treatment." Frederick repeated his idea to use Wapato jail—which is currently sitting vacant—as a "transition site" for people coming from jail back to the community, particularly those with mental health and addiction issues.
"What is the biggest barrier to job creation?" asked County Commissioner Diane McKeel.
"It never has to be these grand scale projects but the tiny things like business incubators," said Collymore—emphasizing efforts like those of MercyCorps to give small business loans. "I also think in the long term if we want to attract bigger businesses to our state, we need to think about how our schools are. Transportation, schools, green economy."
Frederick said supporting small businesses was an important focus. He also said green jobs are a good idea. "Finally, we need to make it very clear that jobs in the trades are important, and they pay well."
Lincoln agreed that supporting the trades was important, as well as the green economy.
"The next question is mine, it came in via Twitter, and it didn't cost the taxpayers anything," said Wheeler. "What role should the legislature play in the ongoing debate over health reform?"
Frederick said he wanted a single payer system, on a national level, adding that the state legislature could "provide a strong program that covers all public employees, so we're no longer seeing the administration take place via the private insurance companies." A cost-effective program for the state, he said, "so that we could use the money for other issues we are struggling with in the state."
Lincoln said he felt Salem legislators made a major step when they insured the state's children, but that they need to "take it a step further." Collymore said she thought a stronger focus on preventative care—screenings for prostate, breast and cervical cancer, would help. "I also think there should be a strong move to bring back daily PE in schools. I think incentives for joining gyms is also really really important. We all know how much I love the gym."
Commissioner Kafoury asked how the candidates would handle conversations with constituents who disagreed.
Lincoln said it was an important principle of holding office to listen and keep an open door to criticism.
Collymore said "I know the power of walking into a legislator's office and explaining what I want and hoping that they'll hear from me." She said a woman's right to choose, and equality rights for gays and lesbians were issues she couldn't be swayed on. "I think when you're in a position to lead, you lead, and you do it strongly," she said, adding that she'd listen on any other issue.
Frederick said issues on the state board of education have brought out a great deal of lobbying. "I will have no problems saying I disagree and telling them why, but I'll also have no problem saying this is what my constituents are saying."
County Commissioner asked what he thought the biggest challenge facing the district is.
Collymore said school equity, specifically the problems with Jefferson and Roosevelt High School. "Folks want to move to North and Northeast Portland, but when it comes to sending their kids to school their, it's frustrating. And it's not okay. We're showing kids by example that they're not good enough to have the things that other kids have. We're creating pockets of race and class divide. I'd like toward rebuilding a neighborhood school system, and I can affect that with my voice, and with my actions, and with my work."
Frederick said he thinks the biggest issue is economic security. "It affects housing, it affects schools, it affects other areas." "I'll take a back seat to no one in terms of education in this state," he said. "But I think it's a case of taking the next step and asking what's the next step we can take." "The key element is getting back to an economic security issue—if we're not training people to look at the trades and the opportunities there and only saying we want people to be professionals, that's not going to change things there."
"It's a combination of housing, education, jobs, and just options for the residents," said Lincoln.
County Commissioner Judy Shiprack asked about workforce housing.
"It's something people want to see," said Frederick, "but people want to see something that is human-sized." He thought cleaning up brownfield sites might be a good idea, so they could be used for housing.
"It's something I would have to look into, further," Lincoln admitted.
Collymore said she had lived in a workforce housing program that was very successful.
Commissioner Diane McKeel asked about business retention. "New Seasons couldn't get their bank to give them money for a store on Hawthorne," said Collymore. "We need to start encouraging banks to give their money away, and I'm supportive of Senator Shields' bill calling for tighter accountability of those TARP funds."
"We need to know the state," said Frederick. "It's something that I feel very proud of, that I do know the state." He added that support for education, and communication of its importance, is really important."