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.


Steve Richkind is more about people than he is about policies; more about love than legislation; more about peace than politics-as-usual.

Richkind, 56, says he wants to go to Salem not for the standard bickering of the two-party system, but to fundamentally change the way government functions. He believes corporations have a stranglehold on American society, and he's prepared to speak an inspirational message of hope that will rally the masses to take back the government.

Experience: Civil rights attorney for 21 years; 1972 Sandy High School graduate; received bachelor's degree and law degree from University of Oregon; former Oregon Supreme Court extern; former judicial law clerk; former metropolitan public defender; family law mediator and vice president of the University of Oregon bookstore.

What has been your proudest accomplishment?

Richkind says he is most proud of his person-to-person activism for change.

'I'm proudest of all the people I've talked to, in order to cause a shift in the way we're thinking,' he said. 'I've been talking to a lot of people, and every single person counts.'

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?

He said the cost of gasoline and the cost of food are rising to the point where they are 'driving people towards bankruptcy.'

The answer, Richkind said, is to cut back on wasteful government agencies.

'I would strongly suggest cutting the Governor's budget,' he said. 'These fat cats don't deserve the money they're getting. We should take that money and shift it to education.'

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

Richkind says he believes the answer to the area's transportation woes is light rail from Gresham to Mount Hood.

To fund it, he wants to tax oil companies, and 'all the companies that are making money of the public in the area of transportation.'

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

'I know that there's always two sides to every issue,' he said, noting he's not very familiar with the agreement. On the one hand, property owners have rights, and on the other, 'There are people who believe every tree is sacred.'

'I think that we need to have conversations,' Richkind continued. 'We need to be more flexible and less ideological.'

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

'Every viewpoint is important and should be respected,' Richkind said.

He said he would institute a process that would foster communitywide discussions on a regular basis.

'We see each other as neighbors, and we need to have connections between neighbors,' Richkind said. 'That's the only way we can survive.'

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 want to bring people together in a conversation, where we're not Republicans and Democrats, not pointing the finger at each other,' Richkind said.

'We weren't born Republicans and Democrats,' Richkind added. 'We were all born human beings. That's something we ought to remember.'

What makes you upset, politically speaking?

'I'm upset that the government has sold the American people down the river,' Richkind said.

He says he gets angry when he looks at the price of gasoline and thinks about how the government has been silent on the subject.

'Someone's getting rich, and our government's doing nothing,' he said. 'That makes me upset.'

Why should we vote for you?

'I'm going to create a shift in the way that we think about what's possible,' Richkind said. 'That's what I'm all about, and I'm doing it already. I'm going to create a shift in the Legislature, to inspire them to think outside the box.'

BONUS QUESTION: Why did you register as a Democrat?

'Good question,' Richkind said. 'I thought the Democratic Party represented ordinary people like me, although that's not always true.'

He admits he's more independent than Democrat.

Richkind initially considered running for the district seat as an independent. If he doesn't win the primary, he said he won't run as an independent in the general election, but he's considering an independent run for the attorney general's position.

Anything else to add?

He says he asks many people whether they believe their vote counts, and he typically hears, 'Not really.'

'That's just not the truth,' Richkind says. 'It matters. It matters! We've all got to get it that every single life matters, even the ones that we think are bad ones.'

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