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Newberg retiree Kriss Wright will face Elise Yarnell Hollamon in the Democrat primary

Every person who runs for political office has a campaign origin story.

Kriss Wright, chairwoman of the Newberg planning commission, said the life experience that pushed her to run for state representative in House District 23 was an accident years ago where she fell into an elevator shaft.

At the time of the accident, which occurred on federal property, Wright ran the dietary communications department at the VA Medical Center in Portland. She was also attending college and taking care of a 4-year-old recently diagnosed with a seizure disorder. COURTESY PHOTO: KRISS WRIGHT - Kriss Wright, chairwoman of the Newberg planning commission, is running for state representative in House District 23.

"I'll tell you what, it was the fight of my life," Wright said, describing herself as going "head-to-head with the U.S government" for compensation and "probably one of the few people who ended up winning their case" against them.

She spent countless hours poring over law and policy manuals and worked with two city governments after the accident, but it wasn't until Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden stepped in that her case made any headway.

"Senator Wyden came out for me and one thing I gotta say, he didn't ask me if I was an Independent, Republican or anything," Wright said. "He just asked me what happened to me, and I told him, and he said, 'I don't agree and I'm going to help you.' And he did."

Fully retired now and having achieved justice, Wright is ready to pay it forward.

"Now that I'm on my feet and have my capacities about me and have all this education behind me, (I know) that I'm a darn good advocate for people …," Wright said.

Wright will compete against fellow Democrat Elise Yarnell Hollamon in the May 17 primary. If she wins, she will face incumbent Anna Scharf, a Republican who was appointed to the House District 23 seat after then-state Rep. Mike Nearman was ousted for his involvement with the capital riots in 2020.

Wright earned a bachelor's degree, along with a GIS (geospatial industry) certificate, from Portland State University, where she focused on climate change, then called global warming. She also earned an associate degree in science and dietary technologies from a community college.

Very familiar with Yamhill County, Wright has lived in Newberg for nine years and her father's side of the family has lived in the Dayton area for more than 80 years. The family is composed of a long line of teachers, entrepreneurs and farmers. While she grew up mostly in Tigard, she spent every summer until late junior high working on her grandparents' farm, where she said she witnessed the power of collaboration. With the help of his neighbors, who distributed well water equally amongst themselves, Wright's grandfather nonetheless found a way to grow food. Additionally, when community members didn't have enough money for specific services, they paid by swapping jobs with their neighbors.

Wright said these childhood experiences, in addition to her service on the planning commission and time as a college student working with multiple agencies to address local environmental issues, have made her an effective mediator.

She said she is skilled at uniting people "even in angry situations," maintaining an open mind no matter who is talking and "finding real solutions" – attributes of what she described as "good leadership."

"I truly, truly believe in 'united we stand' and working together for the benefit of Oregon and therefore our communities," Wright said, adding that most people, regardless of politics, have overlapping concerns.

"We're all wanting the same thing a lot more than I think people realize," Wright said. "Just how we get there might (take) a little bit of teasing out some things and coming to cooperation with each other."

Several issues Wright is particularly passionate about include the environment, poverty, homelessness and mental health.

Regarding the environment, Wright expressed interest in employing incentives for people to engage in beneficial behaviors for the earth, such as modifying infrastructure to encourage walking instead of driving.

She also discussed the environmental challenges locals are facing, including loss of precious topsoil and steelhead and salmon habitats due to erosion, as well as safety concerns like inadequate tsunami evacuation zones on the coast.

Wright said addressing climate change and other environmental issues requires thinking outside the box, adding that it "doesn't take millions of dollars" to solve them, just "one good idea."

As for tackling poverty, homelessness and mental health, Wright said she would devote more funding toward agencies and other resources that have proven to be effective.

"It turns out not just to be one agency that does it all, it's a comprehensive set of agencies that assist with housing, mental health — the barriers to getting that help," Wright said, adding that many churches "take a cog of that wheel," providing anything from phone and computer access to clothing and hygiene items.

These agencies don't just serve the homeless, however.

"I also used these services at one time after having a second accident," Wright said, one that left her with hefty medical bills.

"I am very, very grateful to the many, many agencies that helped me when I was down," she said.

As for homelessness in particular, Wright proposed turning underutilized spaces into places suitable for car camping, hostels or other living arrangements.

Her main objective, however, is preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place. One way she said she intends to do this is by creating more affordable housing in Newberg, stating that over 60% of all households are spending more than half their money on rent or staying in their houses.

Another way is homing in on the pandemic's economic consequences, such as its financial impact on businesses and the blows to people's livelihoods, Wright said.

"I used to have a background in genetics and knowing what I do about viruses and things, this (the pandemic) is not over," Wright said. "So, we will have to figure out how to get back to life."

If COVID cases rise again, "we're going to have to set up the ability for businesses to run without putting employees at risk or (causing them to) burn out," she said.

The pandemic particularly impacted women's livelihoods, especially single mothers who could not rely on another breadwinner to pay the bills, due to the loss of traditional childcare, a blow that research suggests has set women back 20 years, Wright said. For that reason, if elected, incentivizing childcare would be one of her priorities.

Lastly, helping people maintain the quality of their houses can decrease homelessness rates.

"Habitat of Humanity redid a couple of families' homes a couple of years ago," Wright said. "It may have one been one or two houses, but when you get rain damage in houses, people start getting sick and then you have people not being able to get up and do what they used to do and a whole logistic slew of issues.

"So, if you can keep people healthy, wealthy and wise, and not panicking, we can go forward as a city, be together and get through this," Wright said.

Wright's other campaign priorities are bringing jobs to Newberg, addressing the root causes of crime, getting students safely back to school and improving teacher salaries to attract and keep talented educators.


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