OPINION: Missed opportunity for stronger representation in Salem
As elected officials, we know that our democracy is stronger when our government represents the diverse communities it serves. The opportunity to be public servants must be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances.
Those who have lived experience with the myriad challenges that many Oregonians face should inform the policy and budget decisions that affect their lives. All too often, however, these voices are not at the decision-making table. Oregonians with this lived experience frequently do not have the privilege or means necessary to run or serve in elected office.
Working people, people of color, and women all have been historically excluded or underrepresented from elected offices at all levels of government. Elected bodies throughout our state continue to be whiter, wealthier, and older than Oregon's general population.
When you consider the current compensation for state legislators, it's no wonder that the current system is only available to the privileged few who can afford it.
The current salary for an elected member of the Oregon Legislature is $32,839 plus per diem a year — hardly enough to live on in many places in Oregon, much less support a family. That's about 56% of the $58,443 average annual wage that Oregon workers earned in 2021.
Legislators receive this below-average wage under the premise that the job is part-time. In reality, it is not. In addition to working long hours during annual legislative sessions, legislators attend interim committee days, many interim work group and task force meetings and, in the last two years, five additional special sessions.
Throughout the year, legislators also spend countless hours communicating with their constituents and developing policy.
Maintaining a second job to make up the missing legislator pay is untenable for most people.
There are no shortcuts to genuine engagement between a legislator and their constituents. It takes particular attention and time to meaningfully connect with constituents who face additional barriers like language access, inflexible work schedules, transportation needs, and caregiving responsibilities, especially on unfamiliar policy issues and statutes.
In the 2022 legislative session, Senate Bill 1566 was introduced. It would have tied legislator pay to Oregon's average wage. The bill did not pass and should be taken up again in 2023 to help create a more inclusive and diverse Legislature.
As the mayors of 25 cities in the Portland metro area, collectively home to over 1.7 million Oregonians, we stand united in our support for continued efforts to make public service more accessible for Oregonians from all walks of life by providing public servants a living wage. The integrity and effectiveness of our representative democracy depends on it.
The Metropolitan Mayors' Consortium includes Lacey Beaty, mayor of Beaverton; Frank Bubenik, mayor of Tualatin; Joe Buck, mayor of Lake Oswego; Steve Callaway, mayor of Hillsboro; Brian Cooper, mayor of Fairview; Jef Dalin, mayor of Cornelius; Tom Ellis, mayor of Happy Valley; Jaimie Fender, mayor of King City; Julie Fitzgerald, mayor of Wilsonville; Mark Gamba, mayor of Milwaukie; Mark Hardie, mayor of Maywood Park; Scott Harden, mayor of Wood Village; Brian Hodson, mayor of Canby; Randy Lauer, mayor of Troutdale; Teri Lenahan, mayor of North Plains; Rachel Lyles Smith, mayor of Oregon City; Jason Snider, mayor of Tigard; Keith Mays, mayor of Sherwood; Gery Schirado, mayor of Durham; Travis Stovall, mayor of Gresham; Pete Truax, mayor of Forest Grove; Jules Walters, mayor of West Linn; Ted Wheeler, mayor of Portland; and Walt Williams, mayor of Rivergrove. Walters is a Democratic candidate for House District 37. Gamba is a Democratic candidate for House District 41.
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