Washington County's member of the U.S. House of Representatives spent much of her afternoon in Tualatin on Monday, April 17, meeting with the Tualatin Area Aging Task Force and members of Tualatin's team in the America's Best Communities competition.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Beaverton Democrat who has represented Oregon's First Congressional District since 2012, talked to leaders of the Tualatin ABC team just two days before a delegation from the group is set to make their final pitch for up to $3 million from the competition's sponsors: Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel. The final round of judging will be held in Denver on Wednesday, April 19.
Tualatin is one of eight ABC finalists, competing against communities across the United States to impress judges with its "community revitalization plan." Tualatin's push centers around using a Mobile Makerspace, and eventually a career center, to get students engaged in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) disciplines from an early age.
Bonamici a leading congressional advocate of STEAM education
Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said one of the focuses of the Tualatin ABC team's efforts is reaching students from low-income backgrounds, who would statistically be less likely to pursue technical education or a career pathway in Washington County's economically potent high-tech and manufacturing sectors.
"When you look at Tualatin, we're a pretty healthy community. A third of our households are six-figure-income. We have advanced manufacturing. About 26,000 folks live here, about 30-some-thousand jobs. So what's there to revitalize? And you know better than anyone, though, it isn't that way for everybody. So in our community, about a third of our families qualify for some sort of federal assistance," Ogden said.
He continued, "So how do you revitalize? Our big idea, frankly, after we thought it through, was to eliminate poverty. I mean, it's STEAM and STEM as a means, but the end is to eliminate that drag on so many families that affects us all."
Ogden will be among the members of the Tualatin ABC team, which is supported in part by both the City of Tualatin and the Tigard-Tualatin School District, traveling to Denver this week.
First prize in the ABC competition is $3 million. The second- and third-place finishers will receive $2 million and $1 million, respectively.
The Tualatin ABC team has already received a total of $150,000 in grant awards from the competition and raised more than $50,000 locally, according to John Bartholomew, the team's chairman.
"It's obviously great support here locally for what we're doing," said Bartholomew, a board member and actor at Mask & Mirror Community Theatre in Tigard.
Linda Moholt, chief executive officer of the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce and another key member of the ABC team, told Bonamici that it was actually a talk she heard the congresswoman give that inspired her to push for Tualatin to focus its bid on STEAM education.
"I had just attended your presentation on STEAM education, and that is why we settled on STEAM," Moholt said. "So you get credit. You are responsible for us settling on STEAM."
Bonamici is a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. She is also a cofounder of the bipartisan congressional "STEAM caucus."
In recent years, the idea of marrying the arts with more technical disciplines like engineering has taken hold among many education advocates, giving rise to STEAM — a modification of the older catchall for science, technology, engineering and math: STEM.
Bonamici mentioned the then-president of the Rhode Island School of Design, John Maeda — who had been a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before going to Rhode Island — as someone who had worked with members of Congress around the time she was elected in 2012 to promote the idea of STEAM education.
In a column later that year, Maeda wrote that "as a lifelong STEM student myself, I've seen firsthand the innovation that STEM education can produce. But I've also witnessed STEM's limits, and there is a rising new voice out there that has an additional viewpoint on how to keep America competitive — at an even higher level. … Design creates the innovative products and solutions that will propel our economy forward, and artists ask the deep questions about humanity that reveal which way forward actually is."
Whether working with circuits and computer code or vinyl cutters and computer-assisted design software, both the STEM and artistic disciplines provide an opportunity for students to learn through action. Bonamici, whose daughter was a student at Arts & Communication Magnet Academy in Beaverton when she first ran for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives in 2006, said she has seen the value of "hands-on learning" in her district.
"You can see kids are engaged, and they're able to do something that's unique to themselves and to express their creativity — and all things that our business community wants: communication, innovation, new ways to solve problems," Bonamici said. "I've never had one business-owner say, 'I'm looking for a really good rote test-taker.'"
Bonamici toured the Mobile Makerspace, a converted trailer packed with technological gadgetry and educational devices, outside the Juanita Pohl Center after her remarks.
The Tualatin Public Library has stepped up to pilot the Mobile Makerspace, with library outreach staff taking it out to local schools and community events and teaching STEAM curricula that go along with the tools it contains, including "robot blocks," circuits, a three-dimensional printer and a vinyl cutter.
Ogden, Bartholomew and Tualatin Library Manager Jerianne Thompson will deliver the ABC team's final presentation at 12:50 p.m. Pacific Time (1:50 p.m. local) in Denver on Wednesday. The grand prize ceremony will be at 4 p.m. Pacific Time (5 p.m. local). A livestream will be available on the America's Best Communities Facebook page.
Community leaders on aging issues share concerns with congresswoman
Before the meet-and-greet with the ABC team, Bonamici met with the Tualatin Area Aging Task Force for an hourlong roundtable discussion on the challenges faced by senior citizens in and around Tualatin.
Among the key concerns expressed by attendees from the task force — a volunteer group separate from the City of Tualatin, but which advises and lobbies the city on some issues — were transportation, affordable housing and healthcare.
Moholt, who also sits on the task force in addition to leading the Tualatin Chamber, asked Bonamici about the Southwest Corridor transit project. The project is an initiative led by the regional government Metro to bring MAX light rail southwest from Portland through Tigard, with a new line terminating at Bridgeport Village in Tualatin, along with improved bus service and some adjustments to traffic patterns on oft-congested roads and highways like Barbur Boulevard in Southwest Portland.
"It is such a great project," Moholt said.
While President Donald Trump was elected last November on a campaign platform that included making major investments in the United States' transportation infrastructure, the budget proposal the White House rolled out earlier this year actually proposes large cuts to transit funding while eliminating the TIGER grant program (an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), which has been a significant source of funding for local transportation projects since 2009.
The assumption of Metro planners in the Southwest Corridor project has been that the federal government would put up as much as half of the needed funding. The total project cost has been estimated at about $2.5 billion.
Moholt asked Bonamici what she thinks the chances are of the federal government approving funds for the Southwest Corridor project.
"I wish I could predict," Bonamici answered, shaking her head. "I don't know."
Bonamici listed positive effects she has seen from MAX light rail, naming as examples the Orange Line that opened in 2015, connecting downtown Portland with Milwaukie, and the Blue Line extension on the Westside in 1998, which led to mixed-use developments like Orenco Station in Hillsboro and The Round in Beaverton sprouting up around MAX stops.
"I'll do everything I can," Bonamici promised the task force. "Our delegation's actually really good on transportation issues, and we'll be fighting for that."
Joe Lipscomb, who said he is 85, worried that not enough is being done to plan for the future as the population ages. Seniors are among the demographics who would benefit from affordable housing, he added, as would the working class, but he said he sees too many local obstacles to their development.
"The systems right now are not talking to each other," Lipscomb said.
Bonamici agreed with that point.
"You're right about the lack of communication," she said. "Of course, zoning and land use are state and local issues, but addressing the housing challenge is going to take local, state, federal, public, private — it's going to take a lot of partnerships to address this."
One of Bonamici's legislative priorities has been paid family leave, which would make it more feasible for working people to take time off for the birth of a child or to care for a sick or dying loved one.
"We need to join the rest of the industrialized world and have paid family leave," Bonamici said.
Bonamici noted that she was elected to Congress after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, a sweeping overhaul of the nation's healthcare system often referred to as "Obamacare."
"Nobody I have spoken with (in) my almost five-and-a-half years in Congress thinks that it was perfect, but people are more than willing to sit down to talk about how to make it better," Bonamici said.
A Republican effort led by Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to repeal much of the 2010 law while passing a new set of reforms ran onto the rocks last month, due to the objections of House Republicans from both the party's more moderate flank and its most hardline conservatives. The bill was pulled shortly before a scheduled vote as it became clear Ryan did not have the support of enough House Republicans to pass it, with House Democrats unanimously opposed.
Republican leaders have insisted since then that they have not abandoned the idea of repealing the Affordable Care Act, but many Republican lawmakers have faced angry crowds at town halls in their districts as constituents even in Republican strongholds like Oklahoma and Utah turned out in support of the healthcare reforms signed into law by then-President Barack Obama. In Oregon, audiences at town hall meetings held in The Dalles and Bend last week by Rep. Greg Walden, an architect of the Republican healthcare bill and the only Republican in the state's congressional delegation, were generally hostile.
"It sounds slightly cynical, but a lot of my colleagues have promised that they would repeal Obamacare, and that's what the president has promised as well. But they're going back home and finding that their constituents don't really like Obamacare, but they really like the Affordable Care Act," Bonamici said dryly.
Bonamici said she will oppose any efforts to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Asked if she supports a single-payer model for healthcare, shifting responsibility for providing health insurance from employers to the government, Bonamici confirmed she supports a "Medicare for all" approach, which would expand the government healthcare program for seniors to cover all ages.
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to return from recess next week. During this "work period," Bonamici has been holding town halls and other events in her district, which covers Oregon's northwestern corner and includes parts of Portland. She held a town hall meeting in Sherwood Monday evening.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times