Jamie McLeod-Skinner believes “government needs to know when to help and when to get out of the way,” something she says U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has failed to do, which is why she is seeking to replace him in Congress.
“I’ve always seen serving in a public office as serving the public trust,” she said.
McLeod-Skinner, 50, resides in Terrebonne, an unincorporated community north of Redmond. She is a graduate of Ashland High School who has career experience as an engineer, planner and Santa Clara, Calif., city council member.
She has family ties across the Second Congressional District, from her mother, a retired educator in Terrebonne, to her wife’s multi-generational ranching family in the Jordan Valley, which is in Malheur County.
Living in rural Oregon has taught McLeod-Skinner that there are vastly different needs in these communities than large metropolitan areas.
She wants to see more problems addressed at the local level, where needs on the ground are clearly understood, than from thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.
“We need sensible legislation that will meet the needs of Oregonians and I’m happy to work with people of all political parties to get that done,” she said.
She believes outlying areas cannot thrive economically without internet broadband capabilities and she wants technology upgrades to happen quickly. She said low-income rural areas also need infrastructure improvements that accommodate business development.
McLeod-Skinner was born in Wisconsin, one of two children raised by a mom who was on her own for many years.
“She got up early to drive a school bus and then taught all day. During the summer, she picked apples on farms and I remember how hard she worked,” said McLeod-Skinner. “People across this district are making the same types of sacrifices – the poverty level is incredible.”
The family relocated to Oregon and McLeod-Skinner said she ended up with a step-father who was a strong role model.
Today, McLeod-Skinner is the step-parent to four children, ages 11 to 20, and she keeps his mentoring in mind.
She said her heart is with working families and she is determined to make their lives better if elected.
Everywhere she campaigns, McLeod-Skinner says people are expressing dissatisfaction with the way Walden and other GOP leaders are doing business and they want change.
“People are being hurt by reductions in health care and unable to find family-wage jobs or an affordable place to live,” she said. “They want Congress to put aside the politics and work on the big issues that affect their lives.”
She describes herself as a social progressive who is fiscally conservative and committed to integrity and ethics.
Those are the values of her platform as one of seven Democrats in the Second District race.
Her mother taught her to “Always leave a place better than you found it” and McLeod-Skinner has tried to follow that advice, something she believes is sorely needed in D.C., with the deficit soaring and the country politically polarized.
“Partisan politics are hurting us all,” she said. “We need to find the balance.”
Joining McLeod-Skinner on the Democratic ticket in the May 15 primary election are: Dr. Jenni Neahring of Bend; Raz Mason of The Dalles; Jim Crary of Ashland, the 2016 nominee; Eric Burnette of Hood River; Michael Byrne of Hood River; and Tim White of Bend.
Walden, a Republican who resides in Hood River, is being challenged by two members of his own party in the May 15 primary. An independent is also in the race.
McLeod-Skinner believes she is the best choice for Walden’s job because her background demonstrates years of public service.
She was a planner for two government entites in the Silicon Valley of California from 2003 to 2015, developing public policy to address climate change and affordable housing.
From 1996 to 1998, she was a reconstruction and program manager in Bosnia and Kosovo and led a Lutheran refuge services organization from 2000 to 2002.
She worked with U.S. troops to secure the peace and led efforts to help refugees achieve self-sufficiency.
“I saw that our military had to be both peace keepers and warriors at the same time,” she said of that experience. “We have incredibly high expectations for them.”
It is concerning to her that an average of 22 veterans a day commit suicide because they can’t cope with the aftermath of war.
“You can totally disagree with the decision that sent them to war, but they should be taken care of when they get back and we should have no disagreement about that,” she said.
She holds degrees in civil engineering and regional planning, as well as law, with a career emphasis on water issues. She has worked as an environmental planner for a regional water agency serving more than two million customers in both urban and rural areas.
She ran for a city council position while in the Silicon Valley as the underdog and won. She served eight years with a constituency of 120,000, comparable to a state-level rep, while working full-time.
Her efforts to develop a renewable energy portfolio as a city councilor, as well as her focus on housing and development won McLeod-Skinner multiple awards.
As a union member (AFSCME) for more than 10 years, she served as co-director of Employee Resource Group and negotiated on behalf of environmental planners.
She said unions play a critical role in leveling the playing field for working families, which she fully supports.
McLeod-Skinner acknowledges that Walden is a formidable foe in a largely Republican district.
He has won all 10 of his general election races for Congress by at least 61 percent and reportedly has more than $3 million in his war chest for the 2018 election.
In 2016, he won all 20 counties in his district, which is about 70,000 square miles that encompasses Eastern Oregon and most of the central and southern parts of the state.
However, McLeod-Skinner believes Walden is vulnerable this year, largely because he has “undermined” the access of so many Americans to health care. In addition, she said Walden supported recent tax cuts that have made the system less fair and will do little actually stimulate the economy contrary to promises made by GOP leaders.
“I don’t have to outspend him, I just have to spend enough,” she said.
One of her priorities if elected is to reform the current health care system to make it more universally accessible, as well as affordable.
She said quality of care must be defined by specific standards so that people are not under-treated by overworked medical staff or over-treated by care provides motivated by profit.
Her top priorities in Congress would be to support the development of renewable energy, manufacturing and natural resource management jobs.
She said development of clean energy (solar, wind, geothermal) requires that tax incentives be shifted to sustainable energy systems and away from polluting fossil fuels.
Boosting the federal minimum wage to a livable wage is one way to grow the economy, said McLeod-Skinner.
Finding common ground and developing workable solutions to gun violence is a difficult challenge, she said, but one that is possible if people come to the table with an open mind.
“I appreciate that guns are a part of our rural culture,” said McLeod-Skinner, who believes hunting rights must continue to be recognized.
She has vowed to take no donations from the NRA and wants to see that organization required by legislation to be transparent about all political contributions.
She said individual states should have the right to establish more rigorous gun ownership requirements and the federal government should protect Americans from violence with these standards:
There should be a waiting period for all firearm purchases to allow time for a thorough background check.
The background check should screen the potential buyer for criminal records and potential harm to self or others.
She wants armor-piercing ammunition banned.
Future sales of military-grade weapons, including bump stocks, should also be banned.
If the ban fails, McLeod-Skinner supports limiting civilian use of military weapons to firing ranges and securing them on site.
She also advocates for a government buy-back program for military grade weapons, with no resale to civilians.
McLeod-Skinner said schools should receive safety grants to address needs in their communities, from installing security equipment to investing in more school counselors.
She believes public safety necessitates more social infrastructure to address PTSD, opioid addiction, domestic violence and other problems.
Protecting “Dreamers” and providing illegal immigrations with a clear path to citizenship are among McLeod-Skinner’s top priorities.
She said this population group contributes to the economy and plays a vital role in the success of the agriculture industry.
Private prisons create a monetary incentive to incarcerate people, said McLeod-Skinner, who wants to see health and safety institutions under public control.
She has vowed to fight to overturn Citizens United if elected out of the belief that American needs more political transparency in the campaign process. She also believes the rights of all voters should be protected without prejudice or undue restrictions.
On the environmental front, McLeod-Skinner sees global warming as a threat to the world and wants to bring a “sensible voice to Congress” to address the issue.
“We have to try to see things differently and understand where folks are coming from,” she said. “My goal is always to find something in common, something we can agree on. Find an issue and brain storm how we could solve it.