Susheela Jayapal on running for District 3, top issues, what’s going right

KOIN 6 News contacted candidates who are running for Oregon’s Third Congressional District in 2024, asking them to respond to these four questions:

  • Why are you running for office?

  • What is your prior government/civic experience?

  • In your opinion, what are the top three issues facing the Third District and the state of Oregon?

  • In your opinion, what is going right in the Third District and Oregon? How do you plan to build on it?

Susheela Jayapal is running as a Democrat. Here are her responses:

Why are you running for office?

We’re at a pivotal moment – in this district, in Oregon, and in the country. We’ve emerged from the pandemic with extremist Republicans attacking our democracy in ways we’ve never seen before; with rights we’ve taken for granted for decades being rolled back; and with the progress we have made in recent years – on climate change, on healthcare access, on rebuilding our infrastructure – threatened by MAGA ideologues. And we’re also facing immense challenges on the ground locally, with homelessness and behavioral health issues.

It’s more important than ever that we have a strong voice in Congress – someone who is going to stand up for this district’s values and fight for our community. Someone with a proven record of accomplishments, passion for service, and the ability to get things done.

I was born in India, and came to the US to go to college when I was 16. My parents didn’t have a lot of money. But they scraped together what they had to send me here because they believed in the American dream, and because, more than anything, they valued a good education. It was a huge sacrifice. Not only did they use up what little savings they had, but it meant that they are now growing old without us, in India. Their sacrifice, and the desire to pay it forward, drives me.

Because of their sacrifice, I’ve gone to college and law school. I’ve had a career that has spanned the private sector, nonprofits, and elected office. I’ve raised two incredible kids in this community – both of whom graduated from Grant High School, right here in this district – and for thirty years I’ve called this district home.

I’ve been honored to serve Multnomah County for the last five years, and especially to have served during one of the most difficult times in recent memory; and it’s that work that has me running for Congress, because it’s clear that in order for Oregonians to thrive, we need strong leadership at the federal level.

It’s unconscionable that in this, the wealthiest country in the world, people are forced to sleep on the street because they can’t afford a roof over their head. That the cost of healthcare is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy. That reproductive rights are being rolled back, with horrific consequences. And that our planet is literally on fire.

We must take action to create shared prosperity and a world where we all have a fair shot to support our families, and leave a little more to the next generation.

That means everyone has access to affordable housing, to universal and free quality health care, a job with living wages, and a free, quality education, whether it’s college or vocational training. It means that workers have the right to organize and exercise democracy in the workplace, lifting standards for everyone. That we have the freedom to decide whether and when to have a family. And that we transition away from the existential threat posed by fossil fuels, creating good jobs and resilience – especially for the communities who need them most.

I believe that while we have big problems, we also have huge opportunities. I know that we can do better. I know we can work together to take on the problems that face us. I believe we can find the common ground necessary to get things done, without compromising our values. That’s why I’m running for Congress. To fight for the change we need, to build a society and country we can be proud to leave to the next generation.

What is your prior government and/or civic experience?

I’ve lived in District 3 for thirty years, raising my two kids here. In that time, I’ve been fortunate to participate in our civic life as a lawyer, a community leader and volunteer, and most recently, as a Multnomah County Commissioner. During that time I have consistently worked to improve access to reproductive health care, education, and social services. I have established a track record of solving problems and pushing powerful institutions to make changes that make things better for those without power.

As a lawyer, I sued corrupt and negligent savings and loans officials who exploited the working people who had deposited money in their banks, worked to improve labor conditions in overseas factories, and provided free legal services to asylum seekers and children in foster care.

As a nonprofit leader and community volunteer, I volunteered in our schools, mentoring high school students with their college applications; serving on the Grant High School Foundation and chairing the Site Council; reading to elementary school kids through Start Making a Reader Today; and serving as a CASA volunteer and as a grant evaluator with the Oregon Community Foundation.

I served in leadership roles on the boards of a range of nonprofit organizations, including All Hands Raised, Literary Arts, Metropolitan Family Service, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and Planned Parenthood – where we expanded services into Northeast and Southeast Portland; and were the first in the nation to offer medication abortion.

In all of these roles, I prioritized equity, leading changes to systems that for too long have shut out people of color, placed barriers in the way of school success for Black and brown children, children who don’t speak English, and children with disabilities, and neglected communities in the eastern part of this district.

On the Multnomah County Commission, where I served for the last five years, I was a stalwart advocate for comprehensive solutions to homelessness, including expanding shelter, creating more affordable housing, long term rent assistance, and behavioral health services. I fought to provide a living wage to workers on the frontlines of our mental health and homelessness crisis, secured funding for the first-ever LGBTQ+ homeless service center in the county, and prioritized recovery and transitional housing.

I’ve been honored to be recognized for my work supporting survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking as well as my work on clean air; I strengthened support for immigrant and refugee communities; and secured a $2 million federal grant for innovative community-led crime prevention initiatives.

My commitment to the values of social justice, equity, and community empowerment isn’t just political—it’s personal, rooted in my own experiences and understanding of the challenges faced by marginalized communities –– and it’s those values that I’ve consistently brought into all my government and civic service over the years.

In your opinion, what are the top three issues facing District 3 and the state of Oregon?

The issues most visible in the district and the state are homelessness; addiction and mental health; and extreme weather – heat domes, ice storms, wildfires, and other manifestations of climate change that aren’t as dramatic, but are no less serious. These are the things we see and experience every day.

All are encompassed in my federal platform:

Shared prosperity: Everyone should earn enough to afford a decent standard of living, support their family, and make things a little better for the next generation. This means living wage jobs; it means affordable childcare and preschool, and a system that allows us to take care of our elders; a good education, including post-secondary college, apprenticeships, or training; affordable housing and universal, affordable healthcare. Key to achieving shared prosperity is a thriving labor movement and a tax system in which everyone pays their fair share, instead of a system that’s rigged in favor of the wealthy and special interests.

Climate change: It’s unacceptable that we’re leaving the next generation a planet on fire. We must aggressively address climate change. With the recent ice storms and wildfires, it is crystal clear that both slowing climate change and ensuring that our communities are more resilient is an urgent imperative. It is also an opportunity to follow a bold approach that achieves net-zero emissions and creates millions of high-quality and sustainable union clean energy jobs. This is going to require a all-hands on deck effort similar to the New Deal, with investments in large scale mitigation and resiliency projects, upgrades to public infrastructure, modernization of millions of buildings to cut pollution, investments in public health, protections for public lands, regenerative agriculture investments that support local and regional food systems, and more. And all of this work must put environmental justice, inclusion, and equity for frontline communities who have borne the brunt on the forefront of any policy we pursue. As we phase out the fossil fuel industry, we also must ensure that we’re helping those workers and communities phase into the clean energy economy and other industries to help them thrive.

Our Democracy and Civil Rights: The health of our democracy is the most important thing we have. Without it, nothing else works. MAGA Republicans have attacked our country at its very core, questioning the validity of our elections and our very institutions. President Trump encouraged an attack on the U.S. Capitol, where a violent mob assaulted police officers, and people lost their lives. To allow that, without consequence, is a direct threat to the future of our democracy. And our fundamental civil rights are under attack by these same MAGA Republicans, whether it be their relentless assault on voting rights, a dangerous anti-science LGBTQI+ agenda that puts the lives of trans kids and same-sex marriages at risk, telling women what to do with their bodies, giving corporations more rights than people in our campaign finance systems, or banning books in our libraries. I am committed to fighting for equal rights for each and every Oregonian and will never waver in my fight against these attacks.

In your opinion, what is going right in District 3 and Oregon? How do you plan to build on it?

Last year, I did an “exchange” with a commissioner from Union County. I spent several days in Union County – I wanted to learn more about the rural communities he represents, to better understand whether, where and how we might work together. And he came to Multnomah County so he could learn more about us. As he left, he told me this wasn’t the Portland he expected to see – it wasn’t a Portland in flames, it wasn’t a dying Portland. It has big problems, but it also has thriving neighborhoods; innovative programs like the Behavioral Health Resource Center, which he wanted to bring his colleagues to see; and a vibrant, diverse community.

There are many areas where District 3 and Oregon have led the nation. We have some of the strongest labor organizing protections in the country. We’ve reduced barriers to healthcare by creating and then expanding the Oregon Health Plan, including by covering people regardless of immigration status. On reproductive rights, we have led by recognizing abortion care as healthcare. Our vote by mail system is second to none – and here I have to call out Multnomah County’s Elections Division for its peerless dedication to voter information and access to the ballot.

Locally, we have made real progress on strengthening our democratic processes. We have public financing of campaigns at the City of Portland, and ranked choice voting at both Portland and Multnomah County. And here in District 3, we have implemented a ground-breaking Preschool for All initiative that will allow all families to get a quality preschool education for their children, and also create good, living wage jobs for those who provide that education.

Finally, over the last few years we have seen representation matter. Our local and state elected bodies are more diverse than ever before. I was fortunate enough to serve on an all-woman, majority woman of color county commission. The state legislature includes a record number of people of color. We are still not where we need to be in terms of representation, not by a long shot – but we’re making progress.

I’ll build on our work on healthcare access by fighting for Medicare for All – to deliver affordable, effective healthcare and save billions of dollars by recognizing healthcare as a human right rather than a source of profit. I’ll also take lessons learned from Preschool for All to the federal level, to advocate for universal preschool in a model that also creates good, living wage jobs and sets kids up for success.

And finally, I’ll continue our important local work on campaign finance reform and elections by fighting for a future where money no longer has a stranglehold on our politics, and where everyone has access to free and fair elections.

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