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A Fitting Choice

Diversity grounds race for state representative

Cervante Pope | 5/3/2016, 3:52 p.m.
With Lew Frederick stepping down to run for an Oregon Senate seat, finding a fitting replacement for his House seat ...
Roberta Phillip-Robbins and Tawna Sanchez

Oregon House District 43 is one of the most racially diverse legislative districts in the state, encompassing inner north and northeast Portland and the heart of the city’s historic African-American community. Having Lew Frederick as its state representative, this heavily Democratic district has had a black leader fighting for issues important to minority communities since 2009. Now, with Frederick stepping down to run for an Oregon Senate seat, finding a fitting replacement for his House seat may seem difficult.

Focusing on the two main candidates running in the May 17 Democratic Primary, Tawna Sanchez and Roberta Phillip-Robbins, both minority females, stand up against one another pretty fairly. What it boils down to, is how each of them plans to go about alleviating pertinent issues, as well as their particular prioritized agendas.

Coming from both an educational background as a former teacher and a legal background after earning her law degree and doing policy work for children and families, Phillip-Robbins aims to focus her campaign and time in office around stabilizing disadvantaged families.

“The reason I’m seeking office is to really create the opportunities for families to thrive and not just make things meet,” says Phillip-Robbins. “A good quality of life, to me, is not just something rich people should have. That’s what our country has turned into and I vehemently oppose that.”

Other top priorities for the African-American candidate, who serves as a youth and gang violence prevention specialist for Multnomah County, is bringing quality and affordable childcare to the state, supporting a livable wage, and making sure everyone, regardless of race or economic standing, has equal access to justice.

Yet this isn’t to say that Sanchez, a Native American, doesn’t come from and support some of these same ideas.

As a former foster parent, prison volunteer and director of family services at the Native American Youth and Family Center, Sanchez has experiences with family stabilization and justice issues. She lists some of her major political priorities as providing good schools for children, advocating for a higher minimum wage and workers’ rights, and reforming the criminal justice system.

“It’s not necessarily what we’re trying to do, it’s how we’re trying to do it. I have a broad spectrum of experience and I think I look at things from a very community activist perspective,” Sanchez says. “I’ve stood outside places protesting, that very direct on-the-ground activism. I’m definitely not afraid to do that.”

One of the most crucial topics both candidates have to address right is opening up access to housing and preserving the cultural fabric of an inner city population that has lost thousands of residents to gentrification.

Creating affordable housing across the district is a given, but each candidate feels that the Cully Neighborhood, which is situated across several blocks on both sides of Northeast Killingsworth Street between 42nd and 82nd Avenues, could use the most attention for multiple reasons.

For Phillip-Robbins, one of the end goals is to provide Portland with a way to help its own neighborhoods.

“My goal as a legislator around housing would be to find the ways that I could empower local cities to best choose priorities for themselves,” she says.

Sanchez, however, is taking a more analytical, ‘one step at a time’ approach to Cully. “Mostly it’s the streets and the infrastructure there. That’s a big deal to me. I think of kids not being able to ride their bikes to school because of no sidewalks or really any paved streets. That’s not right,” Sanchez says.

When it comes to who will tackle these important matters, both Phillip-Robbins and Sanchez really do hold up as great potential representatives.

For more information about both of their political priorities, you can visit their campaign websites, tawnasanchez.com and robertafororegon.com.