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In exclusive July 1 interview with the Hillsboro Tribune, congresswoman discusses trade, education, senior issues

U. S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) is making the most of her Fourth of July break away from Washington, D.C.

Over the past several days, Bonamici, who represents Oregon 1st Congressional District, has met with residents of The Springs at Tansabourne, an assisted living facility for seniors; participated in the dedication of the 57-unit The Orchards at Orenco -- Hillsboro’s latest affordable housing complex; sat down for an interview with editors from the Hillsboro Tribune; and even helped her mother move into a new apartment in the Portland area. And on top of all that, she said she will be in the Independence Day parade Saturday in downtown Hillsboro.

After visiting with seniors at The Springs on July 1, Bonamici said she was impressed with the level of interest in current issues.

“There was quite a turnout; a lot of people there,” Bonamici said, adding that the seniors were not solely concerned about issues directly affecting senior citizens.

“They were really interested in a whole range of issues, including education and environmental issues,” she said.

Bonamici said she chose The Springs at Tanasbourne because she likes to stay involved with senior citizens – and because she received an invitation.

“I know some people who are residents there, and they said it would be great if you could come out,” she said.

“The Springs at Tanasbourne invited Suzanne, and she likes to meet with seniors when she can to hear about any issues they may be having with Medicare or Social Security,” said Alexandra Gilliland, press secretary for Bonamici. “One of her priorities is ensuring these support systems are protected.”

Gilliand added that July marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare.

Bonamici is currently working to help ensure the Older Americans Act – which expired in 2011 -- is soon reauthorized by Congress.

“It’s a bipartisan bill that helps to fund the Meals on Wheels program, senior centers, medical programs and elderly abuse protections,” explained Bonamici. “It’s legislation most people don’t know about, but they know its programs, such as Meals on Wheels. And it’s not just nutrition, but the human contact. Especially in a rural area, it’s really important to have social contact. These are great programs, and support for them has historically been bipartisan.”

Bonamici said education is another big priority of hers.

“Education is my passion,” she said. “That’s what got me involved in public policy.”

Bonamici pointed out there are 25 school districts in the 1st Congressional District, and that makes it critical that -- regardless of whether a school serves students coming from low-income or high-income families -- all schools get adequate resources.

She also discussed changes she’d like to see to the “No Child Left Behind” legislation Congress approved in 2001.

“That bill was well-intentioned, but it drives the public education system in directions that are counterproductive to what we need,” she said. “We need to be educating creative innovators. Who can find new ways to solve problems? But instead we’ve focused on testing. I don’t take off my parent hat while serving in Congress.”

Bonamici said the focus on testing is misguided.

“I’d like to see less duplication and fewer and better tests,” Bonamici said. “When you look at the companies in our region and what they are looking for, I’ve never found a business owner who says ‘we’re looking for good testing.’ They are looking for good communicators and those who can innovate.”

Turning to trade issues, the congresswoman hailed the recent passage of the Trade Promotion Authority, "fast-track" trade legislation that Bonamici believes will greatly increase opportunities for Oregon companies.

“The new trade bill has a lot of benefits for the district,” she said. “It’s important to the district to expand trade opportunities, and it’s important to our ag community in particular.”

Bonamici stressed that the trade bill does not mean there will be a step back in labor and environmental standards. She believes the bill has the potential to raise the standards of the 11 other trading partners that are involved in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade legislation.

“And if we are raising standards with our partners, there will be less incentive to ship jobs overseas,” she said. “We can’t stop globalization, so we can sit back and watch or help write the rules. I’d rather write the rules.”

Jonathan Schlueter, government relations manager for Washington County, praised Bonamici’s awareness of the value of trade to her district. He pointed out that manufacturers depend on exports and Oregon companies have to ship their goods out of state.

“Suzanne has been very supportive, and we are encouraged by her support,” Schlueter said. “She represents her district very well. Twenty-five percent of all manufacturing in Oregon is done in Washington County, and the trade bill is supported by a number of Oregon companies. Manufacturing depends on exports. We think the trade bill will have huge dividends for Oregon, and for Washington County in particular. Oregon companies stand to directly benefit from the trade bill.”

According to WorkSource Oregon, there were 46,500 manufacturing jobs in Washington County in May, which is just less than one-quarter of all the manufacturing jobs in the entire state.

Toward the end of Wednesday’s interview, Bonamici noted that as of July 1, recreational as well as medicinal marijuana was legal in Oregon -- but Oregon farmers still are not allowed to grow hemp in the state – it has to be imported from China or Canada.

“I am working on legislation for industrial hemp – the stalk of the marijuana plants,” Bonamici said. “Farmers here should be able to grow hemp, but it’s illegal here. There is a lot of potential for hemp.”

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