Endorsement: Sollman deserves re-election in HD 30
Editor's note: This endorsement is part of a series of editorials in advance of the Nov. 6, 2018, general election. Also in this Oct. 17, 2018, issue, our editorial board endorses Ron Noble for House District 24, Rich Vial for House District 26, Susan McLain for House District 29, Brad Witt for House District 31, Tiffiny Mitchell for House District 32, Alexander Flores for Senate District 15, Betsy Johnson for Senate District 16 and Knute Buehler for governor.
Our endorsement editorials in the previous issue on Oct. 10, 2018, recommended voters elect Tom Johnston, Malynda Wenzl and Devon Downeysmith for Forest Grove City Council; Luis Hernandez and John Colgan for Cornelius City Council; and Beach Pace, Kyle Allen and Olivia Alcaire for Hillsboro City Council.
Our Oct. 3, 2018, endorsement editorials recommended voters elect Kathryn Harrington as Washington County Board of Commissioners chairwoman and approve Ballot Measure 26-199.
Our Sept. 26, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters reject Ballot Measures 103 and 104. Our Sept. 19, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters reject Ballot Measure 105. Our Sept. 12, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters approve Ballot Measure 102.
Two years ago, when Hillsboro School Board member Janeen Sollman ran for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives, we endorsed her opponent, Dan Mason.
We wrote at the time that Sollman lacked Mason's command of the issues and frequently seemed to steer our questions back to her primary area of focus, which is education. We concluded that Mason, who had previously run for the Legislature, had learned from his past forays into electoral politics.
Voters in House District 30, which covers much of Hillsboro and includes a swath of northern Washington County, including North Plains and part of the Banks area, evidently disagreed with our editorial board at the time, and they elected Sollman to a two-year term.
As it turns out, Sollman, too, has learned a lot from her short time in Salem. We sat down with her prepared to listen to many of the same talking points she brought to our editorial board in 2016. But we came away impressed by her know-how, her stories from the Legislature and her expanded focus — as well as her willingness to admit that after just two years, she is still learning and working to improve her knowledge even further.
"This job has been an incredible experience," Sollman said at one point, adding that she wants to continue in it: "I know that there's a lot more work left in me."
Much of Sollman's work still centers on education. She is a particularly vocal advocate of more career-technical and vocational education.
"Not every kid is going to go to college," Sollman said, explaining why she believes more schools should have trade programs. "Nor do they have to."
Sollman, a Democrat, votes mostly in line with the majority caucus in the House, and she acknowledged that some of her legislative activities aren't what all of her constituents want to see. But she's also stepped out at times, most notably this year when she broke ranks and voted against House Bill 4113, which would have allowed teachers' unions to negotiate what class sizes they want to have in collective bargaining with school districts.
"I didn't see a solution in there," Sollman told our editorial board. She acknowledged that she took heat for her "nay" vote, but she said she talked to people and organizations in her districts, explained her thoughts, and heard their concerns. Even though the bill passed the House without her vote (it subsequently died in committee when it moved to the Senate), she said she was unwilling to vote in favor of legislation she believed would have a negative impact on public education.
Sollman hasn't been in Salem long enough to build up a lot of clout in the Legislature; she has only two committee assignments, and it may be that she never rises to a leadership position. But she is still able to point to plenty of legislation she has worked on — including the law championed by Brown to close the so-called "boyfriend loophole" with gun purchases. Sollman, who has talked about domestic violence in her home when she was growing up in Gales Creek, said she requested that the governor's office and leadership include her in the process of crafting that law because the issue was so important to her.
In general, we found Sollman much more willing and able to talk about issues beyond education this time than we did two years ago. She gave thoughtful answers about housing issues — the affordable housing debate too often does not consider the growing population of seniors on fixed incomes, she argued — and land use, among other topics. Her grasp of subjects like transportation isn't as strong as education, but to borrow a report-card phrase, she shows improvement.
Sollman is opposed this year by a political newcomer, former real estate agent and great-grandmother Dorothy Merritt. Merritt told our editorial board that she was approached by the Republican Party central committee about running, as she is active in a local Republican women's club.
"They needed somebody for this House District 30," Merritt explained.
Merritt's willingness to step up and run in a district that generally favors Democrats is an admirable quality. But we feel that Merritt, the self-described "conservative choice" in the race, lacks the chops to actually serve. She said the Republican Party set a goal for her to knock on thousands of doors across her district, but she decided to set her sights a lot lower, agreeing to do 100 per day over 15 days.
"They told me, 'Oh, you've got to do 8,000 houses, or you're just not going to win.' I said, 'Well, there is no way that I'm going to do 8,000 houses. What, do you want to kill me?'" said Merritt, who also declined invitations to speak at recent candidate forums in Hillsboro and Verboort.
Although she answered vaguely about some specific state issues, like education and affordable housing, Merritt's political positions generally hew to Republican orthodoxy, and she admitted, "You're not going to change a lot of people's minds very much." Whether or not that's true, it strikes us as the wrong approach. With Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers, and considering Merritt would be a freshman legislator if she defies the odds and wins this election, it'd be critical for her to try to build bipartisan coalitions and work on areas of common concern — and that requires some work.
We are glad that Merritt, and Libertarian Kyle Markley, are running in this election to ensure that voters in HD 30 have a choice in who they send to Salem. But we recommend they return Janeen Sollman to the House this year. She has won us over with her ability to learn on the job, listen to her constituents and broaden her perspective, and we are anxious to see what she can do with two more years in office.