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An unlikely politician

Julie Parrish’s political career began with a simple glance at an article in The Oregonian.

She had always been an avid reader, inhaling copies of everything from The Oregonian to the West Linn Tidings, The Times of Tualatin and national news magazines. She was also something of a “policy wonk” and enjoyed diving deep into issues that others might ignore.

But Parrish had never actually considered running for office until that particular mid-week day in 2010. The primary candidate for House District 37 in the Oregon Legislature had dropped out of the race and now — just a day later — she saw an article announcing a new candidate for the seat.

Julie Parrish.

“I was like, ‘Wait a minute? Where’s the process?’” Parrish said. “I remember reading that article and feeling this sort of visceral reaction. Like, ‘I can’t just be mad about what’s going on in the world around me, I have to actually put my money where my mouth is and go do something about it.’”

As she so often would in Salem during the coming years, Parrish decided to buck against tradition and throw her name into the nomination process. She would go on to win the nomination and the general election that followed — by just 500 votes.

That margin grew considerably through each bid for reelection — a trend Parrish hopes will continue on the November ballot as she faces off with Democrat Paul Southwick and Libertarian Ryan Haffner.

“If somebody told me six years ago I’d be doing this, I would have laughed and maybe said ‘no way,’” Parrish said. “But right now I just can’t fathom not doing it. There’s so many conversations that are really important right now.”

When she was elected in 2010, Parrish became the youngest woman in the Legislature — and of those women, her children were also the youngest.

“So that kind of ‘mom’ voice in politics was really missing,” Parrish said. “It’s great that a bunch of lawyers can sit around in a room and tell us what they think we need for our kids, but some of those folks don’t even have kids. I felt that voice was really missing.”

Of course, lending her voice to the Legislature meant spending a significant time away from home for the first time since her children had been born. Luckily, the Parrish family was uniquely prepared for such a disruption; Parrish’s husband, Mark, was a member of the National Guard and had been deployed for a year in Iraq.

“When I was elected and Mark was winding his Army career down, it was just a reversal of roles,” Parrish said. “He passed the baton and I was deployed to Salem. It wasn’t Iraq, and I got to come home at night, but the kids rolled with it.”

Through her six years in office, Parrish has come to realize that there is a common misperception about the Oregon State Legislature.

“I think the thing people need to understand is it’s not (the United States) Congress,” Parrish said. “It’s not this crazy, hyper-partisan, democrats-and-republicans-hate-each-other kind of environment. In 2015, only 3 percent of bills we voted on in the House — and there were more than 1,000 votes — only 3 percent of them came to a truly party line vote where all parties voted one way or another.

“So if you’re willing to find a way to try to solve a problem with somebody, you will find a person in that building — there’s 90 of us, plus the governor — you will find somebody in that building who you have a personal connection to because of a shared or parallel type experience.”

Of course, with each passing year the Legislature deals with a very specific set of issues. The Tidings asked each of the three District 37 candidates a series of questions about the most pressing concerns in the area. Parrish’s answers are as follows:

On balancing the needs of rural landowners with city-dwelling neighbors:

“Two main issues affecting the rural parts of the district are cut-through traffic and property rights. The first requires a transportation package that reflects the needs of the South Metro region, which were ignored in the 2009 package. As we manage the conversation about growth, it needs to include neighbors, city leaders and a purposeful, inclusive plan for how we move forward.”

On growth in Clackamas County:

“Clackamas County needs both industrial lands and housing stock. Planning should be thoughtful to include transportation, education and core infrastructure. Industrial lands should be connected to freeway/highway arterials to avoid traffic in residential neighborhoods. I don’t support Metro’s goal of 20 units per acre. Affordable housing should include an increase of single-unit family homes.”

On efforts to reopen the Willamette Falls Locks:

“I currently serve on the Willamette Falls Locks Task Force convened by (former) Governor Barbara Roberts. I support a plan whereby the state would take over, reopen and manage the locks for commerce and eco-tourism. West Linn needs a plan for our side of the river that’s comparable and complementary to the Oregon City side. The Willamette Locks represents an opportunity for jobs, tourism and a revitalization of an historic landmark.”

On K-12 education:

“We need an education system that takes into account the needs of the individual child. For that reason, I support increased school choice options for families, to include strong public schools as one of those choices. I believe increased choice will help engage students and increase faltering graduation rates. We cannot afford to continue leaving Oregon students behind.”

On Measure 97:

“I strongly oppose Measure 97. It’s a regressive, pyramid tax that will be passed through to consumers by corporations at an average of $600 per person per year. Contrary to what proponents say, there are quite a few local businesses that will be negatively affected by passage of Measure 97. We cannot afford to lose good-paying family wage jobs in this district.”

On the minimum wage increase:

“I didn’t support the measure because as worded, it created economic segregation of workers in the same industry. We should be talking about family-wage jobs, not minimum wage ones. If we want to ensure people have good paying jobs with benefits, we must connect kids to skills-based education. These jobs don’t require a lot of student loan debt to achieve skills that will lift people permanently out of poverty.”

On the future of HD 37 east

of Wilsonville:

“At some point, unincorporated property in the district will go into the City of Wilsonville. I think the City Council in Wilsonville needs to take into account the concerns of the neighbors in the Frog Pond region who don’t want high-density housing. More high-density housing with no new transportation infrastructure in Wilsonville will continue to create traffic headaches for Wilsonville and surrounding residents.”

On annexation policy:

“I voted against the annexation bill in the Legislature that took the right to vote on annexation out of the hands of citizens. I continue to believe that citizens should have a right to vote on annexation.”

On rural areas like Stafford:

“As a resident, I love the rural beauty of Stafford and would love to see it preserved. However, I anticipate at some point there will be development. The real question we should address is how we will plan for growth, and what kind of growth is acceptable. Twenty units per acre is untenable. No neighboring cities are ready to take up the infrastructure costs. Without a plan, I don’t foresee much development of Stafford in the near future.”

On traffic concerns:

“The 2015 transportation package was bad for our community. No South Metro infrastructure was slated, and the only plan to widen I-205 included tolling neighbors. We need a transportation package that includes a bonded, toll-free plan for widening I-205 from Exit 3 to the Abernethy Bridge. We need to finish the 124th interchange in Tualatin to relieve traffic on Tualatin-Sherwood. And Highway 43 needs better bike lanes and increased bus service.”