The outgoing Multnomah County chair says it takes women supporting women to keep winning races.

COURTESY PHOTO: MOTOYA NAKAMURA, MULTNOMAH COUNTY   - Multnomah County's chief executive, Deborah Kafory, addressed the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference in March 2020. After serving at the state and county level, she is stepping down this year. Deborah Kafoury is stepping down later this year as Multnomah County chairwoman.

The longtime officeholder said the successes of women in Oregon elections didn't happen by chance. She served three terms in the Oregon House of Representatives before being elected as a commissioner on the Multnomah County board in 2008 and winning the election for board chair five years later.

As Kafoury sees it, women's recent election victories show that decades of deliberate work to put women in a position to govern are paying off. She noted the important support of groups such as Emerge Oregon, which trains female candidates; Oregon Women's Political Caucus, which led to the creation of the Oregon Womxn's Campaign School; and the Women's Investment Network Political Action Committee, which supports first-time, Democratic, pro-choice legislative candidates. PMG FILE PHOTO - Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran gets hugs from her son Ben and daughter Ella after being sworn into office in January 2017. County Chair Deborah Kafoury stands to the left. Kafoury says women seeking office often need support from other women already there.

A seasoned Oregon politician who served as a legislator and commissioner of both Portland and Multnomah County, Kafoury's mother, Gretchen, was a founding member of the latter two groups.

"We've had to break down a lot of barriers — women thinking that they're not qualified or they don't have the experience to do it," Kafoury said. "It's not like once a year we can have a weekend campaign school and call it good. It really does take sustained, intentional effort. And that's because women are busy. Women are running businesses and they're running families."

She recalled serving as the House's minority leader during the Legislature's longest-ever session in 2003 when she was pregnant and parenting a 3-year-old. She decided not to run for re-election the next year "to take some time to be with my kids and because the job was so taxing." Many women can't take time off work to care for children, she added.

There's still a lot of progress to be made, Kafoury said. One big hurdle is for elected positions to provide salaries that allow leaders to support their families.

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