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Former OHA advisor, two-time candidate for state legislature outlines vision for more inclusive Democratic Party

FILE PHOTO - Charles Gallia was recently elected chair of Clackamas County Democrats, the national party's local committee that helps support candidates for public office and organizing at the community level. Clackamas County Democrats have a new leader in Charles Gallia, a Clackamas County native, two-time candidate for the Oregon Legislature and a former longtime employee of the Oregon Health Authority.

Gallia was elected chair of the Democratic Party's county chapter during a central committee meeting last Thursday, Nov. 19. Democratic leaders in the county elected a new chair to replace Peter Nordbye following Commissioner Ken Humberston's loss to challenger Mark Shull on Nov. 3, tipping the balance 3-2 in favor of Republicans on the county commission. Shull's win came despite 54% of county voters favoring Joe Biden for president over Donald Trump's 43%.

Gallia said his interest in the Democratic chair position stems from a belief that all people can influence the policies, people and actions that define their community. He wants to apply that idea to the vision and goals of the party.

"I want to make sure that we're receptive to learning and listening to people," Gallia said. "I'm convinced that some of this toxicity at the national level has turned people off (from politics) because who would want to step in the middle of a very personal, bitter fight."

A resident of unincorporated Oregon City, Gallia has lived in Clackamas County nearly his entire life. A graduate of Clackamas High School, he went on to earn degrees from Portland State University, including a doctorate of public administration. From 2001 to 2018, Gallia served as an employee of the Oregon Health Authority's research and evaluation division, most recently as senior policy advisor. He also co-founded the Oregon Pediatric Improvement Partnership located at Oregon Health & Science University.

In recent years, Gallia has mounted two unsuccessful campaigns for Oregon legislative seats historically held by Republicans. The first was in 2016 against former state senator and then-representative Bill Kennemer for House District 29. The second was in 2018 against Sen. Alan Olsen for Senate District 20.

Despite having remained involved with the Democratic Party for a number of years, this is Gallia's first leadership role with the organization. He decided to step up after seeing that the number of people who are able to influence the work and direction of government entities has dwindled in recent years. He wants to change that.

"My goal of making access to government policies and influencing it a cornerstone of the party is to simply make sure we have efficient, effective governance that we can share and have open discussions that are inclusive," he said. "I want to be really clear about what our goals and objectives are and hold those organizations accountable. That means making sure the values of citizens are reflected in what the party does."

To start out with, Gallia plans to go on a listening tour of Clackamas County to find out what priorities and concerns people have, and how those priorities do or don't matchup with the party's values.

Listening, learning and being receptive to people's ideas and worries will be key to gaining a better understanding of how to lead the party forward, he said.

He also plans to host discussions — hopefully in person following the easing of COVID-19 gathering restrictions — with a number of different elected officials from throughout the county. The idea is to bring as many people to table as possible, allow them to articulate their viewpoints and provide an example of what discourse should look like.

"We're going to show by example that we can listen to people with whom we disagree and still be respectful about what it is their saying," Gallia said. "The takeaway is that we want to model the behavior that we hope will be demonstrated by all kinds of people, whatever their political affiliation."

Gallia said that his time working on improving developmental screening rates for children in Oregon, Alaska and West Virginia taught him a lot about the experience of rural residents, as has his proximity to rural communities as a neighbor of the outlying areas of Oregon City for the past two decades.

He believes this lens will serve him well as he attempts to improve the party's outreach to a greater number of people and bring their ideas and concerns into the fold.

"I think there are more areas of commonality, and that's what I want to show," he said. "I'm going to do some open focus groups. We also have these great neighborhood leaders who I'm going to have them ask people what their priorities are and have that information aggregated to share with our elected leaders."

According to Gallia, the upcoming redistricting effort with the completion of the 2020 Census and campaign finance reform efforts approved by voters are also two opportunities that he's looking forward to help showcase marginalized voices within Clackamas County.

"Part of the reason that there's this frustration and kind of almost hostility towards one another, is that people don't feel as if they're being heard," he said. "And that's one of the things I would like to see changed and to be a conduit for making sure that elected officials hear those voices."

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