Fai still determined after tumultuous first few weeks in office
After a trying first three weeks in office, the Washington County Board of Commissioners' newest member says troubling events nationally and locally have only strengthened her resolve to fight for justice.
Nafisa Fai says she watched in frustration as rioters supportive of former President Donald Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol building one day after she was sworn-in.
As a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant — all groups that Trump disparaged during his presidential campaign and four years in office — Fai said it was "disheartening" to see violence aimed at elected officials in Trump's name.
"It's scary," said Fai, who was born in Somalia. "It brings home those threats. Even putting a silly thing like a social media post, I could attract a right-wing (attack) myself."
The disparagement of people she represents hasn't only happened on the national stage — it has happened locally, too, Fai pointed out.
Last week, Fai signed a letter from the Washington County Board of Commissioners condemning Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull for xenophobic and anti-Muslim statements he made in social media posts in 2019.
In one post, Shull, who has been embroiled in controversy since Pamplin Media Group first reported his comments earlier this month, called for Muslims to face "extermination outside the lands of Islam."
All but one of Fai's colleagues on the Washington County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Roy Rogers, signed the letter, which supported Clackamas County's decision to censure Shull and call for his resignation.
Ahead of the letter's release, at a Board of Commissioners meeting Jan. 19, Rogers joined his colleagues in condemning Shull's comments.
But he said he didn't like the letter's tone, which he described as "negative," and pushed for edits, including removing Shull's name from the letter as a way to focus on reiterating Washington County's values. Rogers later said he agreed Shull should resign.
At the meeting, Fai rebuked Rogers, who was elected to his 10th term on the Board of Commissioners in May, for his decision not to sign the letter.
"The idea is Washington County has an equity resolution — we do not tolerate bigotry, racism, anything that would harm certain people," Fai said. "How we actualize that idea is calling out when somebody is wrong or veers away from those ideas. We do not take the easy way out and say, 'Let's put out a statement and not call anybody out.' That's not how accountability works."
In an interview, Fai said she would like the entire Board of Commissioners to be on the same page when it comes to hate speech. She acknowledged there will be times when she disagrees with other commissioners, adding that she doesn't think the disagreement will have an impact on her relationship with Rogers moving forward.
Fai said she has been "really busy" learning about county operations since taking office.
She added these first experiences have reinforced a sense of urgency to make Washington County a more inclusive place and improve residents' lives.
"They still overwhelmingly voted for me — not to learn for the next four years, they voted for me to deliver immediate results, and that's what I'm here for," Fai said, referring to the 35,237 voters — or 57.9% — who supported her last November. "The people who put me in this position, they can't afford to wait."
Fai, a public health professional who managed contact tracing for Washington County through her work at the Public Health Institute prior to taking her position on the county commission, says Washington County's ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic is a top priority.
She said governments need to continue building trust in the community with regard to the safety of the vaccine and that it will be distributed equitably.
"I'm working to just make sure we're asking the community how they would like to receive the vaccine," Fai said.
Getting the pandemic under control will help Washington County make more meaningful progress on other issues people are facing, she said.
"These conversations around climate, transportation, affordable housing still need to happen," Fai said.
She looks forward to working on Washington County's local implementation plan for funds distributed by the recently passed Metro supportive housing services measure, which aims to create "wraparound" support programs for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
"My approach will be to center racial equity as a key priority, engage communities of color, historically marginalized communities and people with lived experience in homelessness as stakeholders to create a local implementation plan," Fai said.
During her campaign, Fai was an ardent supporter of Metro's Measure 26-218, which voters rejected. The transportation measure would have brought safety projects to Highway 8, or Tualatin Valley Highway, a high-crash corridor through the county's rapidly growing communities. Regional leaders say they are discussing alternative ways to fund some of the projects in that measure.
"The measure raised awareness of the safety and equity issues associated with the TV Highway corridor, and it demonstrated that there is support for improvements," Fai said. "Our challenge is for all the jurisdictions to work together to find funding to make corridor-wide improvements a reality."
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