Reflections on Being a Woman, a Minority, a Legislator from Rep. Andrea Salinas

By Diane Jukofsky, Beaver Creek

Members of the Oregon State Legislature, which convened for a short session on February 5, make up one of the most diverse and female-dominant body ever to convene in Salem. In addition, an unusual number of legislators — seven in total — are new, having been appointed to vacated seats. One legislator who fits all these categories is District 38 Representative Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, who was appointed to the seat formerly held by Ann Lininger, named a Clackamas County judge.

Shortly before the legislature adjourned on March 3, Rep. Salinas shared with Clackamas County Democrats her thoughts on her role in the legislature, her legislative priorities, and offered advice to women and minorities thinking of running for public office.

Q: How do you envision your being a woman and daughter of Mexican immigrants affecting your new job?

Salinas: Everyone has their own experience and that experience is the filter upon which they view and respond to any given situation. I take my lens as a Latina legislator and can understand the experience and culture of those in our community who came here to work hard, educate themselves, and find a pathway for a better life as my grandparents did for my dad and his siblings. My experience has given me a view into race relations and misogyny at various levels and has provided me with the skills to have healthy conversations around those topics to break down barriers while maintaining a comfortable space for everyone.

Q: An impressive number of important and progressive laws were passed by the 2017 legislature. Do you think the increased number of female lawmakers deserve any credit for this?

Salinas: I know it’s generalizing to some degree, but I think female lawmakers have different priorities than male lawmakers. Most of the women I have worked with in the legislature and even those I now call my colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — seem to be motivated by the need for stable families and healthy children. Now, we may disagree on ways to address those priorities, but I don’t see how it doesn’t affect the bigger landscape in the legislature. I do know that Oregon wouldn’t have passed the most comprehensive reproductive health care legislation in the nation if it weren’t for the fact that we had so many female legislators who made this a priority last year.

Q: Do you think the trend is continuing in 2018?

Salinas: The 2018 short session is supposed to be for unfinished business, technical fixes, and budget adjustments. So I don’t know that we’ll pass any landmark legislation, but I do know that I’ve been engaging in conversations around sexual harassment in our K-12 schools, and my bill addressing this [HB 4150] is on its way to the Senate floor for a final vote in the legislature before it moves to the governor’s desk. [Editor’s update: the Senate passed the bill on March 1.]

If we can bring back majorities in both chambers in 2019, my hope is that the trend will continue!

Q: What issues are at the top of your agenda?

Salinas: Education and students’ well-being is a top priority. In addition to HB 4150, which passed the House and the Senate Education Committee unanimously, I serve on the House Committee on Health Care and have been very focused on figuring out ways to bring down costs in our health care system. I’m a co-sponsor of HB 4005 prescription drug transparency bill and am chairing the Universal Access to Care workgroup, where we will examine different health care delivery models to make recommendations on how Oregon can provide access to affordable health care to all residents. [Editor’s update: The bill passed both the House and Senate.]

I’ve also prioritized our environment for this short session. We had two different air quality bills go through the Health Care Committee, and I’ve been working to figure out ways to push bills through that will fund the Department of Environmental Quality so it can do needed monitoring on point-source emissions and can reduce diesel particulate matter.

Finally, I’ve been working with my colleagues to try to build support to pass the Clean Energy Jobs bill this session. The bill is our big agenda item this session, and while I would like to see this moved through, the short sessions are tougher than the long sessions given the time constraints. This is a bill near and dear to my heart, as I’ve been working toward this goal when I worked on a similar bill that Governor Kulongoski introduced in 2009. Since then, I’ve worked on the Clean Fuels Program and other environmental issues, but it’s time to take the big bite out of our climate change problem and pass a comprehensive bill where we can invest and innovate in cleaner technologies. [Editor’s update: while the legislature failed to approve the bill this year, Democratic leaders vowed they would win its passage during the longer 2019 session.]

Q: Who have been and are your role models?

Salinas: When I first came to Oregon in 2006, I worked for Congresswoman Darlene Hooley. Being a female leader is tough in any industry, but Congress has to be one of the toughest. Darlene never lost sight of what and who she was working for and her Oregon values. And she did the job with such grace, enthusiasm, and in her running shoes! Then when I started lobbying in the Oregon Legislature, I worked with District 1 State Senator Suzanne Bonamici on lowering pesticide usage in schools. She was tireless and a great role model who showed me the right way to navigate the process and how to get a bill passed.

Since that time, one of my 2012 Emerge Oregon sisters quickly became one of my role models. Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson was the first Latina elected to the Oregon House. She brought a lens that we both share, and she is also very pragmatic in her approach to policy and politics. I find her so inspiring and optimistic that she instills the sense of possibility in those around her.

I believe the common quality possessed by all of these female elected is their fearlessness. They each had their own barriers to conquer and their own lens in which to view the world but ultimately, they’ve made, and continue to make, Oregon a better place for us all.

Q: Eight of Clackamas County’s 21 members of the state legislature are female and three are minorities, although nearly 51 percent of the county’s population is female, and 18 percent checked off non-white categories on the 2016 census form. What’s your advice to women and minorities in Clackamas County who are considering running for elected office?

Salinas: My advice is to take the qualities of my role models and find your fearless warrior. Use your voice in compassionate and constructive processes. You will always have people telling you can’t or shouldn’t do something but listen to the voices that compel you to act in the best interest of your community.

Finally, follow your heart. Running and serving in office is a tough job so you have to know that you’re going to put everything into it in order to get the best results.