Young candidates of color seeking spot at Oregon Capitol
Even before this summer's dramatic events, the Oregon Legislature was poised for change. With a slate of longtime legislators retiring, Black, Indigenous and other people of color saw opportunities and filed to run before COVID-19 became a global pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests spread across the state and nation.
Enough of them won their primaries to set the stage for a record number of minority lawmakers being sworn in next year.
The Oregon Legislature has nine Black, Latino and Indigenous legislators, one of whom, state Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spence of Portland, is not seeking re-election.
Wlnsvey Campos is one of eight candidates of color who could join them in the Capitol next year. She's also poised to become the youngest female state legislator in Oregon's history if she keeps veteran Rep. Jeff Barker's seat in Democratic hands. Barker, an Aloha Democrat, is not running for re-election this year. (Wlnsvey is pronounced Wins-vay)
'Quiet costs' of povery
Campos, 24, won the Democratic nomination in House District 28, which includes parts of Beaverton and Aloha. She has spent her brief political career to date honing a message: Washington County's governing institutions and governing members should look like the people they represent — but they don't.
It's a particularly relevant argument in Washington County. Like many other suburban counties in the United States, Washington County is rapidly diversifying. The county's non-Latino white residents now make up just under 65% of its total population; about 17% of residents are Latino, including a majority of Cornelius residents, and about 12% are Asian, including nearly half of Bethany residents. Notably, Cornelius and Bethany are among the fastest-growing communities in the county.
But demographic change at the government level has come slower. All five county commissioners are white — although that will change if Nafisa Fai, who is Somali American, wins this fall's election to represent the Beaverton area on the board.
The Cornelius City Council is slated to go from being majority-white to majority-Latino after the November election. It will also likely add two women on a council that has been dominated by men for years.
And there's some precedent for Campos as well. Juan Carlos González, who grew up in Cornelius and now lives in Hillsboro, was elected to the Metro Council two years ago at age 25 — just a year older than Campos is right now.
Campos' candidacy is informed by her work as a case manager for the Family Project of Beaverton, an organization dedicated to serving families experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Her rhetoric is imbued with a passion and urgency that she says comes from experience.
"There are so many people who will never know what it is to have to go to a public library restroom and roll sheets of toilet paper so your family can save $8," Campos said. "There are people who will never know what it is to be a child and navigate insurance companies (for their parents) because we don't have translators available."
Discerning the quieter costs of poverty is something that takes lived experience to get right, Campos said.
Not enough young voices
After winning her primary, Campos is the Democratic nominee for a safe blue district, where Barker won with 84% of the vote in 2018. Should she win in November, as expected, she likely would be one of three Latina state legislators, joining fellow Democrats Teresa Alonso León of Woodburn and Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego.
She faces Republican Daniel Martin, founder and chief executive officer of Beaver Express, a local logistics company, in the November election. Martin opposes restrictions and taxes on businesses, as well as statewide efforts to regulate firearms and greenhouse gases.
Campos's road to success wasn't without challenges. She had three primary opponents, including Alisa Blum, a longtime Democratic social worker 35 years her senior who received an endorsement from The Oregonian newspaper in Portland. (Campos received an endorsement from Willamette Week.)
What helped her succeed, Campos said, was a strong campaign team and an ability to connect with unions as a young Latina woman from a working class family background. She won a majority of union endorsements, helping propel her to a decisive victory.
Running in a very Democrat-friendly district, Campos has situated herself to the left of most Democratic lawmakers. She has sharply criticized the Portland Police Bureau and federal authorities for cracking down on protests in Portland. Days after Minneapolis resident George Floyd was killed by a police officer in his city, she took to Twitter to give her thoughts.
"I commit to you, that as a legislator I will not be complicit. I will not uphold systems that enable racism and white supremacy. I will fight to make sure we are addressing issues that disproportionately affect our Black communities — that deem people disposable — including the school to prison pipeline, healthcare inequality and inaccessibility, mass incarceration, the grotesque militarization of the police, and the violence of poverty," Campos wrote.
Campos says her embrace of extremely liberal, potentially alienating policies stems from a sense of urgency about key issues that will play out in her lifetime. That's true for climate change, a big focal point for Campos, as well as affordable housing‚ and police reform.
Her age, however, also sparked a bit of "imposter syndrome," Campos said.
"I felt I was too young, and it was something that I very quickly had to get past," Campos said. "We don't have enough young voices in the room, but we're directly impacted by so many of these policy decisions."
Campos said that by representing people who are otherwise underrepresented in government, she hopes to encourage them to engage with the process and to establish lines of communication with her office.
She's also aware of the symbolic significance of electing to state office a daughter of immigrants from Generation Z. "Teachers and legislators can be role models," Campos said. "By not having that representation, you're excluding people from the process."
Shauna Muckle, a recent graduate of Jesuit High School, is one of two summer interns working for Amplify, a Metro-supported project aimed at elevating the voices of students from communities historically underrepresented in local newsrooms. Pamplin Media Group reporter Mark Miller contributed to this report.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.