I come by my commitment to service naturally. My mom was a nurse and the only woman in our neighborhood to be employed outside the home. My dad, a band director who played jazz on the weekends, worked 80 hours a week for his entire career. Both taught me that work is love and service work is the best kind of love.
I and my brother Kenny (my best friend and co-conspirator) were born and raised in this beautiful state and attended public school in Gladstone, Oregon, where Dad taught. One of the first traumas of my life occurred when Kenny died in a motorcycle accident my freshman year in college. I received his last funny, prankster letter a week after his death. He had been a talented musician like dad, active in theater and jazz choir. He also was a makeup artist, hired by the Portland Opera Company and Reed College, among others at the ripe old age of 16 – the last year of his life.
I attended Vassar College on academic scholarships and then returned to my native Oregon right as the 1980 recession hit, obliterating all jobs much as the recessions of the 2000s have for more recent graduates. I worked as a freelance writer, in publishing, and volunteering for a variety of progressive political causes and candidates in those days, already looking for ways to contribute to my community.
Over the years, I served as a counselor in an abortion clinic that was frequently the site of blockades by anti-choice activists. I testified in court to win a clinic-access order to protect our patients. All the while, I worked on campaigns, including Jesse Jackson’s bid for President, and as a writer and editor for various publications. In 1990, I was selected as Executive Director of the Oregon Commission for Women, where I worked to pass Oregon’s historic Family Medical Leave Act, domestic violence and stalking legislation, and health-care reforms. I did all this while raising my first two children, Griffin and Riley.
It was in my role as “Mom” that I first became an advocate for public education. Portland Public Schools faced a financial deficit and planned to cut full-day Kindergarten districtwide as a result, just as my firstborn was about to enroll. I petitioned the board, organizing more than 150 parents and educators to successfully oppose this decision.
In 1996, I was chosen to represent the 45,000 members of the Oregon Education Association. As a mom, it was my honor to advocate for public education. I have been there ever since, leading the charge on school funding, revenue policy, student health and safety, higher education, and other policy issues. Part of this work has included service on various groups and committees, such as the African American Student Success Advisory Committee and the Oregon Revenue Coalition.
In 2019, I was one of the key architects of the game-changing Student Success Act, which will add $1 billion a year in perpetuity to our chronically underfunded education system. I am particularly proud of the Act’s emphasis on meaningful equity and supports for mental health and nutrition. (The food access provisions of the law make Oregon the best state in the nation for the percentage of students receiving meals in schools.) It is the crowning achievement of my public service career.
After my two children were grown and out in the world, I got a desperate call one Friday night. Two children – friends of my daughter – had survived the tragedy of family violence only to land in foster care. One, a trans child with Down Syndrome, was being forced to wear dresses, though he identified as male. Both he and his young brother were sleeping on a floor, scared and isolated from the world they had known. Within a week, I had won custody of the kids, who I raised as my own.
Now, I am an empty-nester once again, all four children having reached adulthood. My partner Ramin and I are permitted to share our dog Zuki’s home in northwest Portland. Ramin is a Portland State University professor, currently writing a book about his harrowing escape from anti-Jewish persecution in his home country of post-revolutionary Iran.
Though I am proud of my contributions to public policy and to my community, I have experienced three years of profound despair over the many ways our catastrophic president has worked to destroy our republic. I know that all of us feel appalled, by this and by the increase in violence and racism, the anti-union activities heightened since the Janus Supreme Court decision, the existential climate crisis, and our nation’s overall slide into stark economic inequality. These desperate times make it impossible for me to sit on the sidelines. I was raised by my nurse mom and teacher dad to give back to my community, and it is through legislative service that I believe I can continue to make a difference in this troubled world.