Why do you think an organization like the League of Minority Voters (LMV) is important?
The LMV and sister organizations are important to ensure voices are heard. They amplify the power of a single person’s voice, to hear what needs to be said and to form coalitions. I know from my travels throughout Oregon that the voices of many Oregonians are not being heard — or sometimes simply not acted on — in the halls of power. Because of the structural inequities in our systems, the work of the LMV is fundamentally important to build a healthy and equitable Oregon that we can all be proud of. The LMV builds future leaders while holding current leaders and candidates accountable.
Organizations that promote good governance are critical to the survival of democracy. I learned this lesson as a child, from the stories of refugee classmates; my mom had taken a teaching job in Tanzania and some of my classmates had fled the terrorist regime of Idi Amin. I began my public service managing the reconstruction of schools and hospitals in postwar Bosnia and Kosovo. Attacks on any community are a form of warfare that undermines democracy. The difference between publicly acknowledged warfare and institutionalized discrimination are similar to the differences between a gunshot wound and stage 4 cancer. Organizations like LMV are like the humanitarian organizations working in war zones, working to end institutionalized racism.
I have also seen the power of this type of organizing. When I ran for Congress in 2018, I worked with young, grassroots Latinx organizers in Eastern Oregon to rally against the anti-community Measure 105. I am proud to have been part of the work to ensure that Measure 105 failed, not only statewide, but also in the more conservative 2nd congressional district. Those young leaders have now formed their own organization, Raices, which is advocating for and making a difference in the Latinx communities of Eastern Oregon. I’m proud to have their support.
Racism and bigotry still lives on globally. How would you approach dealing with this ongoing issue if elected?
Beyond simply excluding people through a dominant culture mindset, Oregon has a painful history of outright abuse – from the experience of Native peoples to Chinese immigrant workers to those terrorized by the KKK. I have been calling for an inclusive and equitable “Oregon Way 2.0” that includes those who have been overlooked and left behind.
When I served on the Santa Clara City Council, I was the go-to councilor to help resolve issues involving vulnerable communities of color, LGBTQIA+, and groups targeted based on their religion (esp. Muslim). While in law school at the University of Oregon, I served as co-director of the Native American Law Student Association. During my 2018 run for Congress, we worked closely with the Latinx community to combat Measure 105 in 20 of Oregon’s most rural counties, and we specifically hired young Latinx organizers to “build the bench” for the future of Oregon.
In my current role as elected Education Service District Board Member for Jefferson County, I’m part of a team that provides support services for one of the most diverse student populations in Oregon. The demographics of Madras High School, our largest school, is 1⁄3 Tribal (Warm Springs), 1⁄3 Latinx, and 1⁄3 Caucasian. We have already moved beyond minority-majority populations, though the old power structure remains. I have been working to bring better diversity to leadership roles in our schools.
While I am white, I have been an out lesbian my entire adult life and know the frustration of being discounted, pushed aside, and even despised based solely on someone else’s bias. That is why I believe so strongly in using an equity lens, and why I am calling for equity audits to be part of our state audit process. The entrenched systems have created drastic inequities, and we need to identify and address them if we are to create a state where our diversity is seen and valued. This has been part of my life’s work.
In every role and job, I have ever had, I have used the tools of that position to work toward bringing more inclusivity and equity to all areas. As Secretary of State, I would lead by example in addressing incidents of hate speech by establishing and enforcing strict policies against it in my own departments and agencies. And I would ensure the audit process is used to daylight areas where our tax dollars are not meeting the standard of being spent responsibility or not meeting standards of inclusivity.
Our criminal justice system disproportionately affects communities of color. What kind of reforms would you advocate for?
As Secretary of State, one of the most powerful tools I would have to address issues in the criminal justice system is through the audit process, specifically equity audits, which could be used to daylight where our system is failing communities of color. I would conduct performance and equity audits of the processes in place to find the biases that perpetuate the structural inequities and to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are being used in the way it was intended. I would also insist that state agency subcontractors be audited to make sure they are not violating established policies and standards.
We need to ensure demographic data is collected to be able to identify discrepancies in treatment. For example, I could perform equity audits of agencies involved in supporting youth in schools that could identify systemic shortcomings that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline and advocate in the legislature for changes.
A fair and equitable process is fundamental to good governance and public trust in government. Another audit I would conduct would be an audit of the state crime lab. In a criminal proceeding, the accuracy and accessibility of forensic data is critical to a fair and just judicial process, and questions have been raised about biases in the lab, both in the handling of data and what data is reported. Separating the crime lab from the state police makes sense as it can remove concerns about impartiality.
Similarly, environmental injustice impacts low-income communities and communities of color. What are some examples you have come across in Oregon? How would you address these negative impacts?
Key examples across Oregon include siting of waste facilities, high-traffic corridors that pollute nearby residential areas, and neighborhoods that lack proper lighting, roads, sidewalks, water infrastructure failures on the Warm Springs Reservation, to name but a few. A specific example is Portland’s Albina neighborhood, which is home to over 500 hazardous waste sites and several Superfund sites that pollute the neighborhood.
The way it should be is that everyone gets clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment, no matter your level of wealth or status. That is just the deal.
It is the equal protection from environmental and health hazards, and meaningful public participation in decisions that affect the environment in which people live, work, learn, practice spirituality, and play. Having grown up poor, I take it personally when I see communities being dumped on, literally and figuratively. Environmental justice means that environmental laws, policies, and decisions consider and protect all populations and communities, regardless of status.
The Secretary of State role will enable me to daylight violations of this social contract and advocate for additional Key Performance Measures to have our state agencies graded on their work to protect vulnerable and traditionally underrepresented communities.
The Secretary of State is one of three members of the State Land Board, and because of the failure of the Legislature to pass climate legislation, the State Land Board is even more critical to protecting our public lands and waterways. I would be the only member of the State Land Board with expertise and experience in environmental issues. I will foster a proactive, collaborative approach by bringing stakeholders together to develop a long-term sustainable vision, then sustainably manage our natural resources to ensure statewide solutions to the climate crisis. Sustainable management involves both the direct benefit from our state lands as well as secondary benefits to our educators, students, and communities through the Common School Fund and local economic development that we see from this big-picture, collaborative approach.
This collaborative work is especially important for our rural economies, where the legislature has not been doing its political homework to successfully engage rural communities in creating a solution. As a rural Democrat, I can vouch for the interest of many rural folks in finding a solution to our increasing wildfires, droughts, and floods, and for effective climate legislation to succeed, we need leadership that understands what’s at stake statewide.
What are you already doing and what will you do for undocumented immigrants and families who are torn apart in our community/nation if you are elected?
I believe that anyone who lives in Oregon is an Oregonian, no matter documentation status. I have worked with refugee and immigrant communities since the 1990s and helped defeat Measure 105 in rural Oregon in 2018.
My executive, policy, and management experience includes overseeing international multimillion-dollar reconstruction projects; providing naturalization and voter registration assistance as well as developing training programs to empower immigrants and refugees. The Services, Immigrants’ Rights and Education Network (SIREN) awarded me with a Champion of Immigrant’s Rights award in 2009 for my work with immigrant and refugee communities.
In my current role as elected Education Service District Board Member for diverse Jefferson County, I have been working to bring better diversity to leadership roles in our schools and introduced a policy to protect undocumented students and their families from ICE.
If elected, I will advocate for Oregon not to delegate our responsibility for Real ID requirements to the federal government as the federal government does not have a commitment to protect vulnerable immigrant families, and all Oregonians should be free to travel.
I would also use the audit process to daylight whether or not programs are being accessed, and if not, I would do outreach to make sure those communities knew about them and how to benefit from them. Often, people are not sure if they will be asked for their status, how their status will be used, and who will have access. An audit focusing on ensuring privacy of information around immigration status and creating policies to ensure that applicants know their status will not be exposed or compromised will benefit mixed status families and rebuild trust in programs that are designed to help immigrants. I would also work to create a culture of assistance rather than fear in programs that fall under the purview of the Secretary of State. It is important that all Oregonians feel comfortable asking for information and assistance, especially from the Secretary of State whose responsibilities involve maintaining public trust.
Civil Rights are the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. However, access to these rights are not always equitable. What do you think of Affirmative Action policies and protections? If you’re a supporter, please explain why.
Affirmative action is a first step to what we need to achieve, which is structural change to address historical and ongoing inequities and advance rights and opportunities. And we also need to provide tools that empower people. My formal work empowering communities disadvantaged by the dominant culture dates back over 20 years to when I was managing a refugee resettlement office in the Bay Area that included community building, economic development, and naturalization services. I later managed a capacity building program that helped 50 statewide refugee and immigrant community-based organizations become more competitive for grants.
I would bring these experiences of empowering and listening to underserved and targeted communities forward as Secretary of State, and would use the audit process (through equity audits) to daylight inequities or shortcomings where our taxpayer dollars are not being equitably used to address the needs of Oregonians. By specifically considering the impacts on underserved and vulnerable communities, we can bring attention to the needs to better serve all Oregonians. One such strategy is to review public contracting by public entities to assure that the laws regarding minority, women, small business enterprises are followed. We also should take a look at the minority, women, and small business programs that are certified to ensure that business owners of color actually have meaningful access and are not facing barriers that leave them out of contract opportunities.
Adding an equity lens to state agency audits would affect virtually every public service offered to Oregonians. I would develop a standalone racial equity lens that could be applied to audits, so agencies have guidance and so that there is consistency across these processes. This approach would be made clear to all agencies, so that agencies would be aware of this standard, even if they were not audited at that time. By specifically considering the impacts on underserved and vulnerable communities, we can bring attention to the needs to better serve all Oregonians.
If elected, what would you advocate for to increase access to education in our communities?
The Secretary of State is an ex officio member of the State Board of Education, which sets policies and standards for Oregon’s public-school districts and educational service districts. I currently serve on an education service district board and have been working for the past year to improve educational outcomes and will take this experience with me to the Secretary of State’s office.
In my role as an elected Board Member for the Jefferson County Education Service District (JCESD), I serve one of the most diverse student bodies in Oregon. The demographics of Madras High School, our largest school, is 1⁄3 Native American students, 1⁄3 Latinx students, and 1⁄3 Caucasian students. Some of Oregon’s rural communities are more diverse than many people realize. To better understand racial inequities and talk to people about realities in their lives, I attended the community outreach sessions at Madras High School and on the Warm Springs Reservation. Demographic data was provided on the multiple barriers that different communities faced. The information was shocking, especially for Tribal communities, and the conversations were candid. I have used that information and experience to advocate for Tribal communities in my JCESD role and would use the same proactive approach to underserved communities throughout the state.
We need to be taking into account the needs of different age groups and demographics, address issues like access to childcare, racism, bullying, and houselessness that affect learning, and we need to make sure that we have the resources to support our students. The pandemic is a good example of this. With students needing to learn from home, we need to make sure that they have access to resources, such as broadband and laptops or tablets, that will allow them to do their work.
In my JCESD capacity, I have also been advocating for student and parent advisory committees for better accountability and feedback. As I frequently bring up questions about it, the Superintendent now regularly reports out on the work being done to review issues using an equity lens – it underscores the importance of having someone in a leadership role asking the questions. In a recent community feedback session, we have shared data on the challenges faced by Jefferson County families, broken down by demographic – the data makes its own case for why we need to do this work.
As Secretary of State, I will use my audit responsibilities to daylight where we are falling short in providing the educational opportunities our students need to succeed.
We have an opportunity with proper funding to be on the cutting edge of education, and it begins with educating our children all the way through to higher education. As the daughter of a teacher – one who taught in the Midwest, East Africa, as well as Southern and Central Oregon – I know how hard our educators work to prepare our kids for the future.
Similarly, if elected, what would you advocate for to increase access to workforce training in our communities?
I will bring my experience in community development, as a small business owner, and work on municipal economic development to find innovative approaches to support access to workforce training and opportunities by working with local business leaders and chambers.
Some innovative approaches include working to:
- Elect and appoint leaders who put the community first. Our leaders should be willing to listen to new ideas and make it easy and comfortable for people to do business there.
- Commit to a zero-tolerance policy for shadow deals. Let us make sure that everyone has a fair chance to participate and no motivations are hidden.
- Keep young talent from leaving. Businesses want to invest in cities with a young workforce. Young people want to be able to work, live, and play in the same location.
- Make workforce development a priority. Do everything possible to offer training and support for the business community.
- Highlight our university presence. Universities are good for economic growth. They provide local talent and opportunities for internships, scholarships, and partners for training programs.
I would also work to:
- Promote Certified B Corporations, a voluntary certification that meets verified standards for social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, which provide benefits to the community at large.
- Increase training for small businesses needing help in reaching their goals and seeking venture capital.
- Collaborate with Business Oregon and education small businesses about its COBID certification process to gain access to state contracting.
- Provide expanded resources to business startups to support the growth of small businesses. In times of crisis, I would make sure small businesses have immediate access to recovery resources.
LMV would like to see an increase of minority leaders engaged in our political processes. How would you encourage Leadership Development and Civic Engagement in our communities?
As Secretary of State, I would help connect local communities with information on and access to the Oregon Advocacy Commission Office. I would hold statewide conversations that include a robust discussion of diversity and racial equity. It starts with showing up, listening, understanding needs, and working together to address them.
In my 2018 change-making grassroots campaign, I traveled over 45,000 miles throughout Oregon to bring people together around shared values of caring for our families and communities. We achieved the greatest swing of votes nationwide in a congressional race, in one of the toughest districts for a Democrat, by partnering with community-based organizations to hold the incumbent accountable. We organized with Tribal and Latinx communities to defeat Measure 105.
I have worked with youth and adults in vulnerable and targeted communities — LGBTQIA+, disabled, BIPOC, Tribal, refugee, immigrant, farmworker, and Muslim — as an engineer in war torn countries, as a community mediator, as a city manager, as an elected city councilor, as an environmental planner, and as an Education Service District Board Member. I also regularly volunteer for activities such as speaking to high schools about being out in leadership roles. Throughout my career, I have engaged thought leaders from historically underrepresented communities to inform my own service.
As Secretary of State, I will advocate for dropping the voting age to 16 and for same-day registration. I will promote civics education and travel throughout the state to engage students in the voting process. We can bring people together around our shared values when you show up and engage communities in problem solving.
I am committed to building an equitable and inclusive government that works for all of us. This involves working with, and learning from, impacted communities to identify and implement solutions. As Secretary of State, I will regularly meet with community leaders and trusted community based organizations to discuss how we can improve community access to political and economic participation, hire multilingual and multicultural staff and those with lived experience from a range of communities, and provide accessible educational and translation of materials for elections and business registration materials.
What do you think of the following voting initiatives: (1) Same-Day Voters Registration; and (2) National Vote By Mail?
I strongly support and would provide national leadership on both. When you make it easier for people to vote, you make it easier for them to have a voice in the political process. I believe same-day registration will increase turnout among younger voters, whose participation is so critical to the future of our democracy. I would also support recognizing ballots postmarked by election day, which would benefit all Oregonians. I support county clerks applying new methods to determine voter intent (such as ranked choice or STAR voting).