Think Out Loud

Democrats running for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District: Andrea Salinas, Teresa Alonso Leon, Loretta Smith

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
May 9, 2022 2:17 p.m. Updated: May 16, 2022 2:26 p.m.

Broadcast: Monday, May 9

This year, Oregon voters will be able to cast their ballots in a new Congressional district created as a result of the 2020 Census. Oregon’s 6th District stretches from suburbs southwest of Portland to Salem, and includes all of Yamhill and Polk counties, as well as portions of Marion, Washington and Clackamas counties.


Joining us now for a debate are three prominent candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 6th District. Andrea Salinas is an Oregon state representative from Lake Oswego. Teresa Alonso Leon is also a state representative from Woodburn. Loretta Smith is a former Multnomah County commissioner.

Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. As we talked about last week, Oregon is about to have a brand new seat in Congress. The 6th congressional district was added following the 2020 census. It stretches from Portland’s southwest suburbs down into Salem and includes all of Yamhill and Polk counties. With no incumbent, there’s a lot of interest in the primaries for this new seat. Last Wednesday, we talked to two of the Republican candidates. Today, I’m joined by three of the most prominent democrats. Loretta Smith served two terms as a Multnomah County Commissioner. Teresa Alonso Leon is in her third term as a Democratic state representative from Woodburn. And Andrea Salinas is in her third term as a Democratic state rep from Lake Oswego. Welcome to all three of you.

Loretta Smith: Thank you.

Andrea Salinas: Thank you.

Teresa Alonso Leon: Thank you so much.

Miller: I want to give each of you about one minute just to start to introduce yourself to our audience and to tell us briefly why you are running for Congress. We chose randomly before the show, and Andrea Salinas, you can go first.

Salinas: Oh, thank you, Dave, and thanks for having us.

I am the grateful daughter of a Mexican immigrant who taught me that change is possible in a single generation. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. And I look at my daughter, and I know I’m ready to do that hard work, to roll up my sleeves and really dig in for her generation and those who come after.

Here in Oregon, I’ve been part of legislative accomplishments that will make a difference in the lives of working people, by raising the minimum wage, enacting paid family medical leave, and increasing access to affordable healthcare, including reproductive health care, and passing real environmental protections. And I feel like these are the same policies that are being held hostage right now by politics as usual in DC.

Oregon families can’t wait for Congress to do the right thing. Those tough challenges are being felt right now, especially post pandemic and coming out of the pandemic, but especially for those working families who are already falling behind. So truly, I don’t just hold progressive values. I have actually delivered progressive victories here in Oregon, and now it’s time to do the same in Washington DC.

Miller: Loretta Smith?

Smith: Thank you. I’m Loretta Smith, and as you said, I’m a two-time county commissioner. I’m running because I think families are feeling really squeezed, from gas to groceries. And this moment really calls for leaders who are willing to take on the tough fights and to get results. And I’ve done that my entire career. I’ve gotten things done, and throughout my career, I’ll do the same thing.

We’ve noticed that this district represents a change in this region. It represents a more diverse district. And we need diversity and representation in Congress. We have never had that, and we need someone who knows what’s going on so we can hit the ground running.

Miller: And Teresa Alonso Leon?

Alonso Leon: Thank you so much. My name is Teresa Alonso Leon. I’m state representative for House District 22, which covers Woodburn through the north part of Salem. I’m the daughter of farmworkers, sister to a marine, former union member, the oldest of five children, and the first to graduate from college. Our family came to this country when I was just four years old. As a farmworker family, we struggled. We lived in poverty, and often my parents had to choose between feeding their family or seeing a doctor. And I had to grow up fast and had a lot of responsibilities, including translating and interpreting for my parents.

Thanks to my teachers who saw something in me, I got my GED, graduated from Western Oregon University, and got my Masters from Portland State University. I committed my professional career to give him back through various jobs in leadership roles in education. However, I never saw myself as a politician. But the people in my community saw something in me, and they asked me to consider an appointment with the city council, and asked me to run for state rep, including the former representative Betty Komp. And now they’ve asked me to run for Congress.

Not only do I have similar lived experiences of the people who live in District 6, but I have a proven record of passing historic progressive policies, such as Cover All Kids, strongest women reproductive rights, paid family and medical leave, I actually was a champion for drivers license for all. And also I helped pass House Bill 3073, which is to develop a new department of early learning and care, to address our childcare and provider deserts.

Miller: Let me just interrupt now only so we have about equal time for everybody because you started to go a little bit over. So I want to keep folks more or less to time. But let me stick with you first, and we’ll reverse the order here. I’m curious if you can tell us what you see as the specific needs of the residents of District 6, which is a mix, a real Oregon mix of fast-growing cities, diverse suburbs, and farmland?

Alonso Leon: Absolutely. You know, the communities in CD 6 are like all other communities: they want to have a strong education system, they want to have access to affordable and accessible healthcare, which is why I will work really hard when I go to Congress and pass universal health care. It’s important for me to make sure that people are cared for from head to toe.

In respect to education, we have a huge debt with respect to people owing money for school, and I want to remove that, or a big portion of it, because I think it’s important that people move on with their lives. And right now, some people can’t afford to purchase a home because they have such a large student debt. It’s super important that we remove that.

I also want to make sure that we increase our federal minimum wage to $15. I believe it’s really important that people are getting paid their worth. These are things that are really important. I helped pass pay equity in 2017, and that’s something that I want to do on the national level as well.

Miller: Loretta Smith, what do you see as the specific needs of residents of District Six?

Smith: I think they have many of the needs of Oregonians. As someone who worked for Senator Wyden for 21 years, I worked in every corner of this state. And people want us to expand access to health care so that nobody is going bankrupt because of illness and standing up to big pharma. And they also want to lower the cost of gas, groceries, diapers, by fixing supply chain issues, and defend Social Security and Medicare benefits for their retirees.

And they want good paying family living wage jobs, by supporting small businesses, eliminating the digital divide, and fixing our outdated roads and bridges. And so for me, tackling the housing crisis is also an issue. Expanding entry level home ownership opportunities and preserving housing for seniors. 50% of the people who are in our district are over the age of 65.

Defending the freedoms for everyone is also an issue, because people have failed to understand that January 6th did happen. And we need people who are going to stand up for the folks, for the ranchers, the farmers. Make sure we have those county payments that the federal government sends, because 50% of our land is forest land. So we need someone who can fight, stand up, and win.

Miller: Andrea Salinas, what do you see as the specific needs of residents of District 6? Or maybe I can also put this another way, because Loretta Smith and Teresa Alonso Leon both said that essentially the needs of people in District Six are the same as the needs of all Oregonians. So first of all, I’m curious if you agree, if you think there are specific issues in this particular district?

Salinas: Yeah, what I’m hearing is things that are very similar, yes, to what I’m hearing statewide on what people do need. I think there are a lot of folks in this district, a lot of working class families, and I consider this an economic issue: we don’t have enough child care right now. We’ve had a loss of about 20,000 childcare providers shut down their care service in 2020 across the US. This is a supply side challenge right now. So I think building new childcare centers, offering loans and grants to existing or recently closed small business child care providers, and increasing our reimbursement rates from the federal government could go a long way to getting people back to work, as well as for those providers to have good businesses again. And increasing the minimum wage I think is necessary. Obviously, Oregon has a higher than the federal minimum wage, but across the nation definitely,


And I think healthcare is a big issue. You can’t get your kids to school and you can’t be a healthy worker unless you have access to healthcare. And you know, I’ve been leading the challenge on our health care crisis since I was chair of the House Healthcare Committee, now Vice Chair. I lead the debate to make sure that we could vote on something in our constitution to make sure that healthcare is a human right. I have been pushing on looking at mergers, acquisitions and different consolidations with our healthcare providers, which economists really do think leads to increases in healthcare pricing.

And then the environment. There’s an existential nervousness from younger folks to older folks who realize and recognize that wildfires and ice storms and snow in April is not the norm, and it is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable for our agriculture, which I know I’ve heard from our wine industry. We had to replant asparagus. So I think climate is something that we can all start to galvanize around. And this is, again, another area where I’ve been a true leader for a number of years, really putting in place some things here in Oregon where we can reduce our carbon footprint and lead to a healthier environment.

Miller: I want to come back to climate change in just a minute, but all three of you have mentioned healthcare earlier as one of your key priorities. So Andrea Salinas, sticking with you, what specifically would you push for at the federal level with respect to health care?

Salinas: Given the recent leak from the Supreme Court with the Roe decision, I think making sure that women have access to the full suite of reproductive healthcare, everything from prenatal care to postpartum care, including abortion coverage, is so critical right now. So I would say that we absolutely do need to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act immediately. And recognizing that it’s sitting in the Senate right now, that’s something that I think, if that doesn’t get done, I think states who actually provide access to abortion coverage, because we know that abortions are not going to go away it’s just gonna become harder to find safe legal abortions and abortion states. But we will have, I think, the brunt of taking on additional health care coverage for others and being able to provide those services. So I would like to see reimbursement from the federal government in that way. I think that’s a huge area.

Obviously, I think we would love to see a move to a single payer system. But we also have to look at the benefits that are covered under a Medicare for all system, which I think is the prevailing single payer system idea in Congress right now. We leave out a lot of different benefits. Seniors right now can’t get hearing aid coverage under Medicare, but they can get hearing operations. And there’s something wrong with that, when we’re paying for the operations for hearing, but we’re not actually paying for something you need on a daily basis like hearing aids. So we need to start figuring out what the needs are for all people in terms of healthcare, and then really try to bring down the cost. I think citizens and consumers and patients are really tired of paying for insurance, they want to pay for access to real affordable healthcare.

Miller: Loretta Smith, what would you be pushing for at the federal level in terms of health care?

Smith: Medicare for all. I introduced and passed a Medicare for all resolution in Multnomah County when I was a county commissioner there, and I know that families and working families, they’re going broke trying to pay for their Medicare related expenses. And so the second piece to that is, I would work to take that penalty off of Medicare. Because if you don’t sign up when you’re 65, either four months before or two months afterwards, after you’ve paid into the system as an older adult, you will not be eligible to have your prescription drugs paid for, or to have your health care or hospital care paid for. Right now, I think we have a sick care system, we don’t have a healthcare system. And it’s so important that people are able to get accessible, affordable healthcare. That is what everyone is talking to me about in this district, and making sure that we stand up for that, because it’s about time. The medical costs are astronomical. I just found out I had diabetes about a year into COVID, and insulin prices, the medications that you have to take, it is outrageous. And I may have some health care that’s better than others, but some people are paying up to $400 to $1,000 for their insulin. Having this underlying healthcare issue for me as a Black woman, I am gonna be susceptible to a lot of things that are going on. So we can lower those prices for things that people actually are paying for.

And then the last thing on this diabetes thing, 25% of the costs that are paid for for Medicare are diabetes related, whether it be insulin, dialysis, going to the doctor, additional medical expenses. And we’re only spending 13% of our federal budget on research about diabetes. We need to up that research to 25%, because it’s taken us under.

Miller: And Teresa Alonso Leon, your approach to health care at the federal level?

Alonso Leon: I have to agree with both Andrea and Loretta about the issues they mentioned. But I also wanna add that it’s really important that when we do universal healthcare coverage, that we’re talking head to toe, meaning I want to make sure that people have access to mental and behavioral health alongside dental, vision, hearing, and physical attention. Super proud that the Single-Payer Advocates have endorsed me, and because I do believe in single payer universal healthcare.

I also think about health care in this congressional district, and at the national level, we need to look at health care from an equity lens, and ensure that when we are pushing to have mental and behavioral health professionals, that we really emphasize on recruiting, and retaining, and ensuring that we’re paying them well. That they’re bilingual, that they understand the cultural context of many of their clients, and that they are really thinking about how to best support people in general.

We need to normalize accessing mental and behavioral health, the same way we do going to the doctor when our arm breaks. Really start developing a healthy understanding of what that means. That’s really important to me. When I think about health care, and looking at it from an equity lens and equity context, to ensure that we are treating all of our community members in the way they deserve to be treated, with dignity, in the language that they understand, and the support they deserve.

Miller: I should note that we made many attempts to have Carrick Flynn on as well, but his campaign basically ghosted us.

Loretta Smith, let’s now turn back to climate change. Where does climate change rank for you as a priority?

Smith: It is a huge priority for me. I think we need to have bold climate change- because as Andrea said, we have wildfires that are not going to stop. We had a fire so hot in intensity called the Bootleg Fire last year, that it was like a fire tornado on the inside, and you couldn’t get to it, because it was so hot, to be able to put it out. And it’s not going to change.

For those ranchers and those farmers in District 6 water is a huge issue. We need to make sure that we’re listening to them and identifying opportunities to make sure that the water is there. To make sure that from a social justice standpoint, the folks who are actually picking the fruits and vegetables that we so love, that we protect them, that they have sick care, that they are able to go home and take care of themselves. And they’re not right now. They have to go out in the smoke. They have to make sure that they continue to work And doing that will help the people who are actually impacted by the environment.

We also know that 50% of the land in Oregon is forestland. How do we figure out how we manage our forests, and get the right people around the table to do that? So there are a number of things that I think that we need to be doing as it relates to the environment, whether it’s the forest itself, the human social justice side of it, trying to make sure that we deal with the wildfires, and those farmers and ranchers, that they’re able to get the assistance from the federal government that they need.

Now, we’ve had a good run the last couple of years because of COVID, and we’ve been able to incorporate some additional federal dollars. But we have to do some things that are sustainable that are going to help them. And that’s something that we can push for. So I will be certainly fighting for folks who are in our district that are having some extreme weather that are causing them and their workers not to be able to perform.

Miller: Andrea Salinas, what specific climate change policies would you push for as a member of Congress?

Salinas: Yeah, thanks Dave. So, I certainly would sign on to the Green New Deal. But I think there are really great provisions within the Green New Deal. So if you can’t get that passed wholesale, I would love to see moved, and that I think Oregon specifically could benefit from, but actually the whole country could benefit from. We need to move to a clean energy industrial economy, essentially. And what that means is really relying and figuring out how we deploy renewables across the US. There’s a deal going, or at least being looked at, I’m not sure where it is in the process, for offshore wind here in Oregon. The south coast has some of the best wind, not only in the US, but in the world.

And this has been something that I’ve been trying to work on a few years back when I was an advocate for the environmental organizations, which is why I think I have the endorsement of the Oregon League of Conservation voters and the Sierra Club, amongst others. But I think that Oregon is ripe for additional renewable industries and so I think expanding that, but I think every state has its own unique ability to to really capitalize on this new kind of economy. The Heartland, they’ve been doing renewable fuels with corn based products, and I think we have solar that’s ripe in different areas, as well as new technologies that haven’t come out. Geothermal here in Oregon that we really have not tapped into.

So I think Oregon truly is ripe to really be a burgeoning green new economy, and we just haven’t seen that, and we haven’t seen the investments needed to really spur this in the way that we needed need to in order to reduce our greenhouse gasses and our carbon emissions faster than we are right now.

Miller: There’s been a lot of overlap in terms of the policy prescriptions and goals that all three of you have talked about. Voters could also see the significant differences in all of your lived experiences, in your work experiences. But Teresa Alonso Leon first, do you see significant policy differences between you and the other candidates in this race?

Alonso Leon: Well, I would say, because both Andrea and I have served in the legislature about the same time, we have worked together to pass very similar policies. And in fact, some of her policies that I voted for passed, because I believe in similar values, and ensuring that we pass these policies. So pretty much all the policies that she’s listed and all the policies I’ve listed have been able to pass. We either work together, or we voted for each other.

But I think what makes us, I think, different in respect to the way we work is that I was raised in this congressional district. So people know me. I went to Gervais Elementary, I went to Woodburn Middle, and I graduated with my undergrad at Western Oregon University. I’m bilingual, and I am the first indigenous immigrant, Latina legislator in the history of our state, which allows me to have a different lens in the way I work. I have been embedded in this community. People know me when I walk in downtown Woodburn, they all know me.

And I look at policies through an equity lens, and ensure that we are really looking at how do we make sure that everybody’s embedded in policy, like our driver’s license bill.

Miller: Loretta Smith, what do you see as the most significant policy differences between you and the other candidate in this race?

Smith: The policy difference is that I will be supporting the Freedom to Vote Act, and making sure that that is a bill that is put forward if it doesn’t pass this session, next session.

But the bigger issue is the question is 65% of what we do in a congressional office is constituent services And I’m gonna make sure that our constituent services is deep. I did that for over 20 years, working with Senator Wyden, making sure that constituent services, people trying to get their benefits from the federal government, that’s what we will concentrate a lot of our policies on. And of course, as you’re working on constituent services, that kind of informs you on which policies to take forward. What’s happening in your district, how can we be helpful? Should we write a policy? Do we need resources?

Miller: Andrea Salinas?

Salinas: I would just say, I have been a leader. I served as House Majority Whip. I’ve been serving on various committees as a leader, whether it’s healthcare, on different boards and commissions, as well as serving 10 years for different members of Congress, one of whom actually represented this congressional district, and then as a state legislator. So I would say I’ve been delivering in many capacities, whether it’s federal level, state level, or as an advocate on all of these issues that we’ve talked about today.

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