Tobias Read: 'Our policies are dominated by short-termism'
State Treasurer Tobias Read launched his gubernatorial campaign this week, immediately framing his platform on how the pandemic is impacting Oregon's kids.
The former Beaverton lawmaker joins a crowded field of Democrats, with prominent names like House Speaker Tina Kotek, Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla and former Independent gubernatorial candidate, Patrick Starnes, in the 2022 Democratic primary race.
We met with Read outside the Hammer & Stitch in Northwest Portland. Donned in head-to-toe Nike gear, likely a nod to his former employer, Read was quick to highlight his main talking points on COVID-19 and his goal for making a better future for children in Oregon.
The following interview was cut for clarity and brevity.
Pamplin Media: On your campaign website, you state that you strongly support vaccine mandates. Can you expand your reasoning on why you support mandates? What is your argument against the idea that mandates infringe on bodily autonomy and human rights?
Read: Well, this is just really personal for me. I'm a parent of two kids. My daughter just turned 12 and our son is eight so only one of them is eligible to be vaccinated. And that's actually surprisingly hard to make happen, by the way. So, I just am not OK with the idea that someone's version of freedom includes endangering other people.
(Vaccines) are the only way that we get past the pandemic, get control of it, and allow the state to move forward and take on the things that are going to create progress for the state. I really want to measure what we're doing, by how our kids are doing and vaccines are the key to everything.
Pamplin Media: Some folks are dubious about the vaccine and arguably have good reason to be distrustful of our government and public health systems. (i.e., past experiences with bad doctors, lack of insurance/access to information) If elected, what would you do to bolster your constituent's trust in our public health systems?
Read: I think it's really important that people talk to people that they trust. Most people who are fortunate to have a relationship with a health care provider, whether that's the physician or nurse practitioner or somebody else, so I think base that relationship on their trust.
I don't fault anyone for taking it seriously and asking questions about the vaccine. But this is the route out, this is the way for us to be in control of the pandemic.
Pamplin Media: I was chatting with some folks from Warm Springs the other day who are still facing a water crisis as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in their communities. Tribes like the Klamath, meanwhile, are still healing from the devastating scars of unprecedented wildfires. What could the state be doing better to aid in these crises? What would you do as governor to ensure Oregon's indigenous communities aren't left behind?
Read: I think these are both good examples of the kind of impact that our physical setting has on the quality of life.
I was the co-chair of the governor's Wildfire Economic Recovery Council. We spent a lot of time talking about how we can help communities and people who are impacted by wildfires and recover more quickly. But part of the lesson from that conversation was what we need to do more on the front end to make sure that we're more resilient against wildfires because it's not likely that wildfires are suddenly going to stop work or go back to the more manageable variety that we used to see.
I think we need to invest more in (indigenous) communities and build more resilient infrastructure in creative approaches, like prescribed burning, that reduces the risk for populous communities.
With respect to the Warm Springs in the issue of water. I think at this moment there is a really interesting opportunity with the approach to bonding and to the infrastructure that's there. The kind of infrastructure that has a long physical life that benefits lots of people is exactly the sort of thing that we should be emphasizing when we put our bond capacity to use. There's not much more important than water to human life.
Pamplin Media: Homelessness is an issue that many state and city leaders are calling a "humanitarian crisis." I noticed that it is missing from your list of priorities on your website. How would you plan to, in your words, "avoid half-measures that tinker around edges of long-standing problems," like homelessness?
Read: I think we can see the visual, the visceral, the really tangible examples of our approaches not working and not working fast enough.
I tend to think of it in two forms: the longer it is about the supply of affordable housing. We have to be building more. We have to be making sure that the housing we're building is in the right places and the right type, that's accessible to people who are otherwise struggling.
In the short-term, we have to recognize the interconnected nature of what's causing people to struggle. The addiction, the mental health issues. And really be smart about how we're deploying resources and dollars are available.
We have to be creative, and I think we have to be diligent in making sure that we're doing approaches that are producing results. Nobody is satisfied with where we are.
Pamplin Media: It appears Washington County is becoming increasingly more important in not only state but national elections as well. As someone who represented Washington County, how major do you think the county will be in Oregon's Democratic Coalition?
Read: When I was in the legislature still, as a member of the House, you got to have a moniker. That's tradition.
I always threatened to make my moniker, the "Economic Engine for Oregon" or something like that so that people could recognize there's so much that's going on in Washington County. I think it's really emblematic of what's possible for the state when we recognize that diversity and the opportunity people have, and what's possible to think about like agriculture, high tech and manufacturing, and sort of everything that exists in Oregon.
I think (Washington County) is a good model for what we should be looking at for the state.
Pamplin Media: The pandemic and economic hardships have obviously been a huge theme this past year, but so have issues around police brutality and the state's dark history with racism. How would you use your influence as governor to confront these issues?
Read: We have to listen, and we have to be humble and recognize the history is, as you articulated it, and work to build confidence and relationships.
I think people recognize the value of law enforcement that is appropriately equipped and prepared to deal with the variety of challenges that they confront.
We all want to have the confidence that when we're in need of assistance that someone can come with the right expertise, the right skills to address things, and I don't think that that need is going to go away. But we have great need and great opportunity to ensure that the community's needs and the capacity of law enforcement are better matched.
Pamplin Media: This has been a historic year for diversity in the Legislature, in the city, and in county governments. At the risk of playing identity politics here, what is the case for electing a white guy from the suburbs to be governor? How do you plan to bolster your coalition/team to ensure you're representing every Oregonian?
Read: I think this is going to be a contest and a conversation about the future of Oregon and I think anybody who's got good ideas should be part of that.
What I want to do is really make the case for investing in our future and measuring our progress by how our kids are doing. I think this is the key to creating an Oregon that we want.
Pamplin Media: You opened your campaign video with your fear as a father watching your kids live with the pandemic. How much has your perspective as a parent influenced your campaign?
Read: It's the reason I'm running. There's not a lot more of a complicated way to say that.
I think that a lot of our politics, a lot of our discussion and a lot of our policies are dominated by short-termism. Whatever I can do to raise our gaze to the horizon, to think about what Oregon is going to be like for future generations. I think that's the responsibility I feel.
It is personal for me as I look at our kids, as I interact with their friends, when we are masked up driving to soccer games with other kids and to baseball games and all those sorts of things, the tremendous potential that exists in young Oregonians. That's what motivates me to be in public service.
Pamplin Media: I hear you talk a lot about how short-termism is not the way to form good policy. Can you give me an example on what you mean by that?
Read: Let me change that slightly and give you an example of what's a long-term solution.
Half of people who work in Oregon, and across the country don't have or didn't have a way to save for retirement. That's a long-term problem because for most people that's going to feel like it's a long way off. It's complicated, it's intimidating, and most people don't do anything about it.
So, we passed a law creating a retirement savings plan for those people who don't have that option. We're the first state in the country to do this. 115,000 people who have retirement accounts saved $130 million.
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