Jamie McLeod-Skinner toured Orchard View farm near The Dalles last week, learning about cherry production from owner Bob Bailey.
“We were talking about everything from business opportunities to the pressure on the industry — how the federal government can either help or get out of the way,” said the Democratic candidate for the Second Congressional District seat.
McLeod-Skinner, 50, said immigration reform is a huge issue for worried farmers. Without a workforce, crops do not get harvested and the livelihood of growers is threatened, as well as a key component of Oregon’s economy.
She believes Republican incumbent Greg Walden, whom she is challenging, and others in Congress have exhibited a failure of leadership by not tackling true immigration reform.
There are enough stressors on food producers, she said, without worrying about a problem created by federal inaction.
“There needs to a guest worker program, a clear path to documentation and to citizenship for those who have grown up in the U.S., paid taxes and contributed to our economy and national defense,” she said.
According to McLeod-Skinner, the role and responsibility of government is to provide the physical and social infrastructure necessary for farmers to succeed and for other citizens to care for their families and communities.
She said Walden chose to land on the wrong side of a moral issue by supporting President Donald Trump’s policy to separate children from their parents, blaming past presidents for failure to act and issuing a statement that Congress will “consider legislation that takes steps towards improving security.”
“There’s been a lot of talk, but nothing gets fixed,” she said.
She said it is commendable that Walden has chosen to make the fight against opioid addiction, one of the central pillars of his re-election platform, but it is a safe issue to champion since few will oppose it.
“I’m delighted to see that he stepped up, my question is, ‘What took him so long?” she said. “More than 350,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2016 and Walden was in office during that time.”
In fact, she said overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control.
McLeod-Skinner was chosen in May by voters from among seven contenders within her own party to face off with Walden, who makes his home in Hood River and has represented the district since 1999.
It is the largest of Oregon’s five districts and the seventh largest in the nation. Covering roughly two-thirds of the state, the district encompasses Wasco, Hood River, Jackson, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Wheeler counties, as well as part of eastern Josephine County.
Since winning the Democratic nomination, McLeod- Skinner has been towing her Teardrop trailer from one community to another within the district to meet with residents and local leaders.
“I used to say that I lived in Terrebonne, now I refer to it as home base,” she said.
McLeod-Skinner’s wife, Cass, is from a multi-generational ranching family in the Jordan Valley, which is in Malheur County. Jamie is a step-parent to four children, ages 11 to 20.
She said Walden is a formidable opponent with a war chest topping $3 million, but she’s been taking her case to the people for the past year.
“This race is essentially going to be the people versus big money, and we’ll see how it rolls out,” she said.
Everywhere she goes, McLeod-Skinner said people of all political stripes tell her that there needs to be a change in Washington, D.C. That the actions of Trump, Walden and other GOP leaders are polarizing and cannot be supported.
“Human decency is nonpartisan,” she said. “We have to secure our borders, but there is a way to do that without challenging common decency.”
Trump’s “war of words” on trade issues is also threatening cherry and wheat growers, said McLeod-Skinner.
“I don’t believe in being an isolationist,” she said.
Asian markets provide growers with critical markets and McLeod-Skinner said tension between China and other Pacific Rim countries could bring retaliatory tariffs that shut off these markets.
“I don’t understand why our current representative is not stepping up and being more supportive of his ag constituents by challenging the president,” she said.
“He’s truly become the typical career politician. I respect his service, but he’s more focused now on a partisan agenda.”
She said the failure of Republicans to address deficiencies in the health care system is also harming Oregonians.
When GOP leaders were aiming to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, McLeod-Skinner said 134,500 Oregonians in the district, about 17 percent of the population, would have lost coverage.
She wants to make health care more universally accessible, as well as affordable.
She said it was ironic to come across a billboard of Walden’s that said, “He works for us,” when the advertisement was likely paid with money from “Big Pharma” and corporate interests.
McLeod-Skinner said the Center for Responsive Politics reports that Walden has received more than $1 million in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry since 1999.
In the current election cycle, she said he received $367,700 from the pharmaceutical industry. And that makes him the number one recipient of contributions from that industry in the House.
She questions whether accepting donations from companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioids is ethical given that Walden is leading the battle against drug addiction.
Another federal system that has needed fixing for years, said McLeod-Skinner, is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In addition to bureaucratic snarls with service delivery, she said veterans are too often given medication to help them deal with war trauma and mental health issues instead of true treatment.
“It’s not just about meds, we need to help them move beyond isolation,” she said. “We need to look for ways to tap their strengths and provide them with leadership abilities where we can all benefit from their experiences.”
On the environmental front, McLeod-Skinner said it is well and good that Walden is working to manage forest lands to better control catastrophic wildfires, but global warming is a threat to the entire world and federal officials have failed to act on this issue.
Congress needs to do the heavy lift, said McLeod-Skinner, to make more of an investment in social infrastructure, such as school safety programs for students — she favors more rigorous gun ownership requirements and a ban on military-grade weapons — and physical infrastructure, such as replacement of aging roads and bridges.
“We need to figure out what our priorities are and invest in those priorities,” she said.