The fight for district 52

Democrats saw the Oregon House District 52 seat as weak even before Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, announced she wouldn't seek reelection this year.

Now, with the incumbent out of the picture, two Democrats seek to represent the Sandy and Hood River areas in Salem.

As with the Republican primary contenders, the candidates seeking the Democratic nod have notably different beliefs about Salem politics, campaigning and the key issues facing our district.

The Post sat down with both Sandy attorney Steve Richkind and former Oregon City Commissioner and Head Start executive Suzanne VanOrman, and discussed some of our area's big issues.


After a closer-than-expected loss to incumbent Patti Smith two years ago, Suzanne VanOrman, 68, is back for another shot at the House District 52 seat. Why? Because, as she says, the issues she wanted to address two years ago are still in need of addressing.

It doesn't take long for one to figure out what those issues are: education and healthcare. VanOrman's long, successful career with Head Start has taught her many lessons about those issues and others, and she says she's ready to parlay that experience into the Legislature.

Experience: Director, Mid-Columbia Children's Council (Head Start) for nearly 22 years; former city commissioner, Oregon City; former legislative aide for Robin Lindquist, State of Oregon; former teacher; former project coordinator, Clackamas County Children's Commission; employee and volunteer coordinator, Clackamas County Juvenile Court; project coordinator, Clackamas County Productivity Improvement Project; former South Fork Water Board member; former member, Oregon City Civil Service Board; former member, Tri-Cities Services Budget Committee; treasurer, Oregon City Optimists; and past president of eight community organizations.

What has been your proudest accomplishment?

Without a beat, VanOrman said her work at the helm of the Columbia River area Head Start program was the most gratifying.

'There was such a difference in the children from when they first came to when they left,' she said, noting that she enjoys looking finding former students in local honor roll lists.

During her nearly 22-year tenure, she grew the nonprofit, government contracted program from 95 pre-kindergarten children to 483. The program started in Hood River and branched out across Hood River County, down to Tygh Valley and Madras, and up to North Bonneville and Goldendale, Wash.

It was during her work at Head Start, that VanOrman said she learned innumerable lessons about budgeting, leadership, education and public/private partnerships.

Economic times are hard. What will you do to ensure that the district weathers a recession and increase - or even maintain - the number of family-wage jobs here?

'I would definitely want to see that the Oregon Economic Development (Department) is vital and is doing lots of things for local communities,' VanOrman said.

She also said she would work on another issue that is vital to a healthy local economy: transportation infrastructure.

How do you hope to address the transportation issues on Highway 26?

She says she doesn't believe a gas tax is the way to fund transportation infrastructure, and believes that such an effort could be killed by citizen initiative.

'With the price of gas so high, there's no way you can put a gas tax on anything anymore,' she said. 'I don't think that's an option. We've borrowed money in the past to do projects, and we may have to borrow some more.'

She said a key priority will be to increase the number of law enforcement officers on the highway, which provide a real deterrent to dangerous driving. She says Washington has a much better handle on this, and is shows.

What do you think of the so-called Green Corridor Agreement with the city of Sandy, Clackamas County and Metro?

'It's simply an intergovernmental agreement … that essentially means each group will discuss with the others before development happens there,' VanOrman said. 'Intergovernmental agreements are good for everyone; they make people talk to one another.'

As far as the principle of keeping a rural buffer, 'I think Sandy is right,' VanOrman said. 'The minute you start sprawling out there, they won't have an identity anymore.'

What do you plan to do, specifically, to make sure the geographically and ideologically diverse communities of this district are well represented?

'Well, I plan to be available,' VanOrman said. 'I plan to come back and let people know what's going on.'

She would do that with periodic town hall meetings, newsletters, Internet bulletins, set office hours and a responsive staff.

Current voter registration numbers indicate that the Sandy area is split Republican and Democrat. What does that mean for our area, and how do you plan to address the other side of the aisle?

'I don't foresee any problems with that,' VanOrman said. 'I'll be there to focus on what really matters: education for our children and healthcare. When you hold a common vision, you get a lot done.'

What makes you upset, politically speaking?

'Sometimes no matter how hard you try to advocate for something, you can't get through to anybody,' VanOrman said, referring specifically to the Oregon Legislature's failure to reauthorize funding for Head Start in 2003. It took them until 2007 to do it.

'They got bogged down in ideology,' she said. 'There are a lot of myths and lies (in politics), and it's sometimes hard to know where reality is of certain things.'

Why should we vote for you?

'Because I will focus on what matters to people,' VanOrman said. Those things are education and healthcare.

'I think that I have a record of hard work, and that I will speak up when I need to speak up,' she said.

BONUS QUESTION: What do you think Patti Smith did well?

'Obviously she did well in communicating with the people,' VanOrman said. 'They felt comfortable with her and communicated to. Obviously she met the needs of the constituents.'

Anything else to add?

VanOrman said her budgeting background will become a valuable asset in the Legislature, and noted that many current legislators have suggested that she should be on the Joint Ways and Means Committee, the powerful budgetary committee on which Rep. Patti Smith current serves.

In the meantime, she has been asked to be on the budget workgroup for the Oregon Commission on Children and Families.

'I will be a person you can depend on,' she continued. 'What I've modeled for my boys is do your job; put in the hours that it takes. And both my boys work overtime.'

'I will certainly be a voice for rural Oregon. I am very proud to say I have a lot of farmer support.'


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