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Sen. Rod Monroe joined by challengers Kayse Jama and Shemia Fagan on Wednesday.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Incumbent Senator Rod MonroeThe Democratic Party candidates for Senate District 24 visited Rockwood to discuss the issues facing their constituents and answer audience questions ahead of the May 15 primary.

Incumbent Sen. Rod Monroe was joined by his two primary challengers Kayse Jama and Shemia Fagan. The event was hosted by the Multnomah County Democrats on Wednesday night, Jan. 17, at the Rosewood Initiative, 16126 S.E. Stark St. The candidates spoke before an engaged crowd of about 60 voters, who clapped and cheered throughout the evening.

District 24 encompasses east Portland, including parts of the Centennial neighborhood, and north Clackamas County.

Monroe is a retired teacher and co-chairman of the Ways and Means Education subcommittee. His top priority is to stop teacher layoffs, reduce class sizes and improve nutrition options for students. He also is working to improve transportation safety and efficiency, and keep drivers under the influence off the roads. Monroe, who first claimed a seat in the Legislature more than 40 years ago, has championed health and safety regulations.

Jama is a community-based leader who was born in Somalia. As an immigrant to the United States, he wants to support those in achieving the "American Dream." He is an advocate for those experiencing poverty, displaced workers, women, people of color, native people, immigrants and refugees, the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities. One of his main focuses is bringing more diversity into positions of power within the community.

Fagan is a former representative who served two terms in the Oregon House before stepping down last year to focus on her family and career as an employment lawyer. She also has served on the David Douglas School Board. Fagan has worked on sidewalk and safety improvements for East Portland streets and tenant protection legislation. Her two main goals are securing more affordable housing and protecting people's access to healthcare.

Audience questions

The main portion of the debate consisted of the candidates addressing questions from the people who came to hear them:

How does taking financial support affect campaigns?

Jama: We need to remove money from our politics if we want a true democracy.

Monroe: I have voted for every attempt at campaign reform. I have never traded my vote for anything — ever. There are no strings attached to any dollars given to my campaign.

Fagan: Democracies function on principals of accountability. Working people and parents can't spend half their time raising money.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Kayse Jama

What are your plans for public transit?

Monroe: We need North-South bus routes in the outer Portland area. TriMet has assured me they will put those routes in place with the funding they have received.

Fagan: Public transit is an incredible opportunity. Bigger freeways don't solve traffic problems, so being smart and not passing the cost along to the people we are trying to help is critical."

Jama: Transit has to be accessible and affordable for all people. It's time for corporations to pay their fair share. One thing proposed is tolls, but that means someone displaced from Portland will now have to pay to use the roads to get to work.

How do you plan to support kids in poverty?

Jama: 60,000 kids are homeless in this state. We have to work hard to support the families struggling to pay their services and find housing.

Monroe: I have been responsible for childhood and women's rights programs. I was the author of three major nutrition programs, because these kids get their nutrition from our schools.

Fagan: Small class sizes and after-school programs are when teachers can see when kids need more support. We also have to better fund summer programs, because that is when children in poverty fall further behind.

How would you deal with addiction treatment?

Fagan: This is a crisis in our state, and when I was in the legislature we passed the good Samaritan law so someone can stay and help a person going through an overdoes without facing charges.

Jama: We need to treat addiction as a public health issue. It's not a criminal charge, and we need to stop treating it as one.

Monroe: Mental health addiction on opioids is a national problem, not just an Oregon one. We need more mental health facilities.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Shemia Fagan

How will you engage with diversity?

Jama: This is an easy one for me. I have brought diverse communities of immigrants and people of color together to build a strong movement.

Monroe: Our neighborhoods are becoming more diverse, which I think is a great thing.

Fagan: Even the strongest among us is no replacement for proportional representation for people of color.

Why are you running?

Monroe: I am running because of experience, which makes a difference. I have a history of working across the aisle to get things done.

Fagan: Too many of us are fighting for the stability of a normal life, and the senate has become a place where progressive ideas go to die. As a mother of two kids, I cannot wait another day for the senate to do better.

Jama: I remember trying to advocate in Salem and seeing how it is broken. I am mad as hell and want to make sure we build people's power in this community.

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