This month, we invited nine of the candidates vying to be Oregon’s next governor for interviews. The seat is open for the first time since 2015. Jessica Gomez is seeking the Republican nomination. She is the founder and CEO of a small microelectronics manufacturer in Medford and the only candidate who identifies publicly as Latina.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: We continue our series of conversations with candidates for Oregon governor right now. Today, I’m joined by Jessica Gomez. She’s running in the Republican primary. Gomez grew up in New York and makes her home in Medford. She is the founder and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices, a small electronics manufacturing company there. She’s not held elective office, but she sits on various boards including the Oregon Business Council and the Jackson County Economic Development Council. What do you see as the most important issue that Oregon is facing right now?
Jessica Gomez: Oh wow. We have so many. But I think for right now unsheltered homelessness is really a top issue in our state. We see the damage that it has done in a lot of our urban areas. And even here in my hometown, in Medford, we have struggled tremendously with this issue, with people living along the greenway. And it really stems from addiction and our lack of infrastructure and services to address those systemic issues here in our state. We’re number one in addiction and we’re really close to, I think number 50 in actual services.
Miller: If I’m not mistaken, you’re the only candidate for governor, certainly that we’ve talked to, who has talked about being homeless in the past. You’ve written that when you were in your early teens, you spent part of a year living on the streets and parks and sleeping in a car in southern Oregon. How did those experiences shape the way you view the current issue of homelessness?
Gomez: Well, it really gives you an appreciation for just where you are today in general. And it also gives me hope that other people who are struggling with this issue can actually rise above that, can become healthy, and live a long and prosperous life outside of that experience, right? When you face those kinds of barriers, you know, it really drives that home. And I think again, these are people who are in crisis, who are really struggling and they need our help. And our state has done a dismal job at getting that done.
Miller: So if you’re saying that the issue at root here is about addiction, what would you do as governor with that in mind?
Gomez: The model that I have in mind is after the elderly care model. It’s a community based model. It’s got three levels of care. The first level is what you would consider for memory care residents, where it’s a closed facility. There’s a lot of support. You can’t just get up and leave. The next level down is what you see in assisted living. And then the next level is independent living. And we really need to do this for our unsheltered homeless and our people who are really struggling with severe addiction. I’m talking methamphetamines, heroin and some of these, you know, cocaine, some of these really addictive drugs, fentanyl. And really start at that most secure level of care so we can get people stabilized, detox, and start to work with them to address even the underlying issue of trauma and whatever is causing addiction to take place.
And really work through that education program process because there’s a physiological part of addiction also that needs to be addressed and people need that education. So once they’re ready, they would move into sort of more of a community living type of support structure, and then into independent living and then back out into the community. Set them up with jobs and career pathways. Reconnect them with family.
Miller: Are you calling then for the legislature to allocate more money for drug treatment?
Gomez: You know, the legislature - there was a ballot measure that was passed, 110. I didn’t support it because it basically decriminalizes drug use. But what it also did was it allocated millions and millions of dollars towards addiction recovery services. And the Oregon Health Authority has yet to release those funds. It’s almost $300 million dollars right now. So we have the money in our budget. It’s just not being used strategically. In fact it’s not being used at all. And this is an absolute failure, I feel like, of our state infrastructure system.
Miller: I want to turn to education. As governor, you would be officially in charge of education, the actual superintendent of public instruction in Oregon. What’s your diagnosis for what’s not working in Oregon’s K-12 system? Why do you think Oregon’s graduation rate and achievement numbers are near the bottom nationwide?
Gomez: Part of it is, we’re not the money that we’re spending, and we spend a lot in this state, isn’t actually making it into the classroom. We’re graduating kids that aren’t ready to compete globally for those jobs, right? And part of a high school education is to acclimate kids to career pathways to help them, kind of get onto that next phase in life. And we’re really not able to do that. Kids are graduating now with low reading, writing, math skills and they’re just not ready. We see it coming into our colleges or community colleges in our universities. And right now, you know, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission has been really adamant that colleges need to do a better job at wrapping around services and helping people get up to speed in math. But that actually costs a lot of money for students and prolongs their ability to be able to get that degree. So instead of taking four years, it’s taking people six or seven years, due to this issue. So we need to do a much better job at our K-12 system and that’s really getting back to the basics - reading, writing, math, engineering skills, you know, those critical thinking skills, but connecting it in a much more tangible way.
So I think parents are a big part of this. Engaging parents in that process, teaching parents how to best support their kids. That’s gonna be really important. Small group instruction is important. But also when we get up into the higher grades, we need kids to be able to participate in work experience. So I want to put in place a statewide apprenticeship model starting in high school. In the 11th and 12th grades, kids would actually be working out in the field, out in their industry or career of choice. Their classes would be aligned to that career pathway. And the hope is that they graduate with a career path, a trade, and hopefully some college credit. And if they decide to continue on with that education, they have the skills needed to be competitive.
Miller: I want to go back to the first thing you said, though. If I heard you correctly, it said one of the big problems is not the amount of money that we’re spending statewide on schools, but the way we’re spending. And you said not enough money is going into classrooms. Does that mean that as governor, you would direct the state to get rid of some element of local control and mandate staffing in classrooms in a different way?
Gomez: No. You know, I’m a big fan of actually local control and flexible dollars because our local communities know what those needs are on the ground. I think what ends up happening is that we’ve got so much - we’re so restricted in some ways - of how we allocate dollars that we’re creating this structure where just the reporting itself is sucking up a lot of administrative costs. And so, I think we need to simplify proof of compliance. We need to streamline the operation of our public education system. So those dollars actually make it into the classroom because we still have teachers that are buying materials for their classes.
Miller: So your thinking is that would free up more money for more math teachers for example?
Gomez: Yeah, that’s going to free up more resources. And also we need to take a look at education in a different way. I’m a big believer in hands-on education. That’s how I learned my trade. I started out - I knew nothing about semiconductor or chip manufacturing. And I started out as a operator, making minimum wage. That was my first job in the industry and I learned from the inside out. I learned from the ground up.
Miller: Am I right that your company has about 26 employees now?
Gomez: Yeah. We’re desperately looking for more. So if you want a job, come see me.
Miller: I thank you. I really appreciate that. I love mine for now, but it’s good to know. But what experience do you have that’s prepared you to manage a state government with tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of policy making and regulatory boards and commissions?
Gomez: Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, as being a CEO for the last almost 20 years, I’ve got a lot of management experience. And a lot of that comes down to building teams and good decision making. And CEO’s do this work all the time. This is the bedrock of running a company. [It] is being able to hire the best possible people in your field to help accomplish the goal. And we need to do that in state government. And right now we have a lot of state agencies that are struggling with leadership. When you get to get the right people onboard, recruit nationally, make sure that they have core competency in that area of operation, and then empower them to streamline the operation of those state agencies so that we can begin to deliver back value to Oregonians. Because again right now we’re spending a lot of money and people aren’t getting a return on investment for their tax dollars and I’ll be able to get that done.
You know, having a policy experience in economic development, education, workforce development. Even healthcare policy is really important. I’ve served as a legislative aide in the legislature during one of our short sessions, it really gives you that insight and perspective and how state government works, how the legislature operates, and helps to put those pieces in place. And you know, this is not rocket science. It just takes good leadership and good management.
Miller: Yeah, not rocket science. Are you saying it’s an easy job to be governor of Oregon?
Gomez: Absolutely not. It is not an easy job. It’s a tremendous amount of work but you know, we have issues that are completely solvable. And I know many people feel like, you know, that our situation in the state is a bit hopeless. They feel frustrated. They feel like they don’t have a voice and they feel like overall our state is moving in the wrong direction. And you know, I tell people we have a lot going for us. We have tremendous potential as a state. But we do need someone who understands how to lead and understands how to put the right people in the right places and accomplish the goal. And we haven’t had that for a while.
Miller: Jessica Gomez, thanks very much for your time. Jessica Gomez is a Republican candidate for governor, founder and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices. I should note that we had planned to bring you interviews with nine candidates for Oregon governor. So far we’ve had Republicans Bridget Barton, Stan Pulliam and Bob Tiernan, in addition to Jessica Gomez, and Democrats Patrick Starnes and Tobias Read. Tina Kotek will join us next week. We are still hoping to hear from Republicans Christine Drazan and Bud Pierce. We’ve given both of their campaigns a lot of flexibility around dates. If you want to hear from them, you can let them know.
Contact “Think Out Loud®”
If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to email@example.com, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.