Nominees for state Senate bring range of political experience
The three nominees to replace Betsy Johnson in the Oregon Senate will meet with county commissioners next week.
Rachel Armitage, Melissa Busch and Nadia Gardner will be interviewed. Commissioners are then tasked with selecting one to finish the final year of Johnson's term.
Only one of the three nominees, Busch, plans to run for a full term in 2022.
Johnson's successor will be appointed by county commissioners Friday, Jan. 14, giving the new senator just over two weeks to prepare for the short session that starts Feb. 1.
Armitage says her past experience working in the state Legislature will help her be an effective legislator if appointed.
Armitage served as a legislative assistant for Rep. Susan McLain, D-Forest Grove, in the 2016 short session and since-retired Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, in the 2017 long session.
"With an opportunity to return to Salem, I'm hoping to be somebody who, with that experience, can hit the ground running and really be effective for our community," Armitage said.
Beyond direct legislative operations, Armitage also worked on constituent services during her time in the legislature.
"With all these different federal funding measures coming down through the state and the different things the state's doing to help relieve Oregonians, I think it's really important to have somebody in that office who understands those processes and can help connect people as they're really struggling," Armitage said.
In the short session, Armitage would focus on jobs and housing.
"There are a lot of things we need to do to be supporting workers and supporting jobs," she said. "But I think we need to start with making sure that our workers can find housing in this district."
Armitage grew up in southern Oregon "watching the decline of the timber industry (and seeing) how funding just sort of disintegrated for really important services" — an experience familiar to residents of Senate District 16.
Armitage lives in Warren and works in Reed College's fundraising office.
Both Armitage and Gardner said they do not intend to run for a full term representing Senate District 16 in 2022.
"By being appointed to the seat but not having to run, I can really put my attention to doing the job," Gardner said. "Not having to campaign at the same time means that I won't be distracted doing all the things that you need to do in order to get elected for office."
Gardner is an environmental consultant living in the Arch Cape community of Clatsop County, close to the Tillamook County line.
Until roughly four years ago, Gardner worked full-time with nonprofit land trust organizations. She now does consulting work part-time, focusing on bringing funding to Oregon to support research on ocean science, while raising her son.
Gardner chairs the Clatsop County planning commission and serves on the elected board of the Arch Cape domestic water supply district, which is in the process of purchasing a 1,500-acre drinking watershed.
Currently, "a lot of the people in our communities are living on the edge," Gardner said.
"Anybody who's sitting in statewide or local seats needs to really be focusing on meeting people's basic needs," Gardner said, listing jobs, affordable workforce housing, childcare, and adequate staffing in schools and hospitals.
She remarked, "I'm really extremely excited and proud to be a part of a group of women that the precinct committee persons from five counties came together and chose. … I know that any of us chosen will do the job well for our communities."
Busch, a home health nurse who lives in Warren, said she has been studying up on what issues will be the focus of the short session, which can only last 35 days.
Any legislator "would be amiss to think it is a time for crafting policy," Busch said, adding, "It would not be a time I would anticipate bringing new policy forward."
Busch said she's heard that housing and healthcare — two topics she's expressed a particular focus on — will be worked on in the short session.
In early December, Busch was anticipating taking a break from campaign work over the holidays — until Johnson announced she would resign Dec. 15.
"It definitely changed things and was very busy, but it was also really satisfying to hear from voters that the issues I'm running on are really important to folks in the district," Busch said.
Busch, the only nominee who plans to run in November, said she will continue her campaign "regardless of what happens with the appointment process."
Democratic party representatives selected the nominees on Jan. 4, concluding a 20-day whirlwind nomination process.
"People came through rain and wind and snowstorms to show up in Seaside and participate in the voting process," Busch said.
Sixty-some precinct committee persons attended the nomination meeting to cast votes for the nominees.
The group first voted to nominate three people out of eight candidates.
Two candidates who publicly announced their hope for the nomination were not selected: Robby Backus, a 24-year-old political newcomer from Scappoose and Deborah Boone, who represented Clatsop County as a state representative for 15 years.
State law allows the political party of the resigned legislator to nominate between three and five candidates for county commissioners to consider.
"I think the general feeling there was that by limiting the choices that the county commissioners had, we had the best chance of getting our priorities represented in the final decision," explained Greg Pettit, former chair of the Columbia County Democrats.
Commissioners from Clatsop, Columbia, Multnomah, Tillamook, Washington and Yamhill counties will meet to interview the three nominees and select a replacement for the open position on Jan. 14, just within the legal limit of 30 days to fill the vacancy.
The number of votes each county commissioner receives is based on the number of registered voters within each county's portion of the district. Columbia County, which has 41,424 voters, gets 41 votes, meaning each commissioner has 13.66 votes — more than double any other county commissioners. Clatsop County gets 31 votes, divided between five commissioners; Multnomah, 5; Washington, 18; Tillamook, 14; and Yamhill, with one voter in the district, will get one vote.
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