State Rep. Sheri Schouten announces retirement
State Rep. Sheri Schouten announced that she will not be seeking reelection and intends to retire after completing her third term in the Oregon Legislature in early 2023.
Schouten cited a number of reasons for her departure, redistricting being a major one.
Schouten represents House District 27, which stretches southwest from Central Beaverton and also takes in a small part of Multnomah County.
But the new legislative map has drawn her into House District 36, which includes just a few Beaverton neighborhoods, along with South Hillsboro and a swath of rural Washington County.
"I've lived my whole life in the Beaverton southwest area. I don't know anybody out in those other communities. And it just seemed like a logical time for somebody else to come in, because if I ran again, I'd have to start from scratch," Schouten said.
The Beaverton Democrat spent more than three decades as a nurse, before she was elected the Oregon House of Representatives in 2016 to succeed now-state Treasurer Tobias Read.
That was back when she was still Sheri Malstrom. She married Dick Schouten, then a Washington County commissioner, in 2018, taking his name.
"I ran because I saw the struggles families faced not just as a nurse, but as a single, widowed mother of three," Schouten stated in her retirement announcement. "I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish for our children, nurses and many communities facing rising healthcare and prescription drug costs."
Schouten is also part of a growing number of lawmakers representing Washington County who have brought their public health and medical expertise to Salem.
That group includes state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a family physician who represents parts of Beaverton and Portland; Rep. Rachel Prusak, a family nurse practitioner who represents Tualatin and West Linn; Rep. Lisa Reynolds, a pediatrician who lives in Oak Hills; Rep. Maxine Dexter, a pulmonary and critical care physician whose district includes parts of northern Washington County; and Rep. Dacia Grayber, a firefighter-paramedic with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue whose district includes much of Southwest Portland and Tigard.
Schouten is ready to pass on the baton, although she says she is looking forward to watching more healthcare workers get into politics.
Travis Nelson, who is running for House Speaker Tina Kotek's seat in East Portland, is an example of someone she hopes will carry on the nursing legacy at the House.
"There's a lot more emphasis on health in the House. I don't feel like I'm carrying that banner alone," she said.
Schouten told Pamplin Media Group in a January 2020 interview that she has always tried to bring her background in public health to discussions in Salem.
"In every caucus discussion and in every conversation about intended and unintended consequences, I try to bring that perspective," she said in that interview. "I saw how these policies affect people, such as mothers having to go right back to work after having a baby because they do not have a job with the benefit of giving them time off."
During her first career as a nurse, Schouten remembers watching many low-income patients struggle to get the healthcare they desperately needed as "Big Pharma" reaped copious amounts of money raising pharmaceutical prices and pushing highly addictive painkillers.
Schouten said she also used to treat patients — many of them children — for drug poisoning. She also treated countless patients with addiction.
"One of the most common ways they get started on drugs is they got somebody else's leftover pills," she said.
In 2019, Schouten sponsored legislation that ensured Oregonians had safe access to drug disposal. House Bill 3273, or the Drug Takeback Bill, ended up being an even more difficult feat than she had imagined.
"I started on it the first day I was there, because I was really passionate, but it took until the second session to get it, because I was not only making the state make a statewide for-disposal program, but I was making pharma pay for it throughout the state of Oregon," she said. "And boy, did I not understand how hard that was going to be my first time there."
A lot of Schouten's former patients were diabetic and struggled to pay for insulin.
"Some people were paying up to $700 or $800 a month because they might have to have two or three insulins, and they can't afford it, and then they don't take the full amount," she said.
That's why in 2021, Schouten pushed for House Bill 2623, which capped insulin copays at $75 per month for Oregon families.
Schouten, who was a single working mother of three and went through her own challenges with childcare, also championed quite a few bills championing family and children's issues.
"Between my three children that first year, when they were the smallest — when I was first widowed — I calculated out that after my childcare costs, I made about $200 a month," she said.
This prompted Schouten to advocate for reproductive health equity, paid family leave and affordable childcare legislation. Other legislation for children she chief-sponsored included mandating insurance for children's hearing aids, banning bumper guards on cribs to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, and updating car seat laws with the American Academy of Pediatrics to ensure children stay rear-facing until they are 2 years old.
Schouten got to know her now-husband, Dick, on the campaign trail. In 2017, Dick — who was also widowed — proposed to her on the House floor, and the couple was married in 2018 by Gov. Kate Brown at Jenkins Estate in Aloha.
Schouten said she is looking forward to spending more time with her family and grandchildren when she retires. She has no intention of slowing down her community service work, however. She plans to volunteer with organizations like the Washington County Medical Reserve Corps, where she has administered COVID-19 vaccinations this past year.
"There's a saying that goes, 'If you want something done, ask a busy person,' and that's kind of what I've always done," she said. "I think going back to the days where I was a single widowed mom with three little kids, I was always busy. I don't know anything else except being busy. So I'm sure I will be doing that."
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