Oregon Secretary of State candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner is a record setter in more ways than one, offering a variety of experience

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Air date: 
Mon, 01/27/2020 - 5:45pm to 6:00pm


Jamie McLeod-Skinner is running as a Democrat in the primary for Oregon Secretary of State this coming May. 

McLeod-Skinner ran for Congress for Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018 and set new records for Democratic turnout. This included winning two counties that tend to lean conservative, Deschutes and Hood River.

She currently holds both an elected and an appointed office in Oregon. She is an elected board member of the Jefferson County Education Service District and was also appointed by Governor Kate Brown as a Board Member at Large for the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which provides grants to restore and protect watersheds and habitats.

Prior to this, she served as a city councilor in Santa Clara, California, for eight years.

She has a degree in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a master's in regional planning from Cornell, and a law degree with an emphasis in Indian law, environmental law, and water rights from the University of Oregon.

She also worked for the International Rescue Committee in post-war Bosnia and Kosovo rebuilding schools, hospitals, and sanitation systems.

And fun fact - she graduated from Ashland High School where the record she set in the 800 meters still stands. 

KBOO's Michele Coppola and Yasemin Cobanoglu speak to McLeod-Skinner in studio, about her campaign, and how to help everyday Oregonians as Secretary of State. 

More information on Jamie McLeod-Skinner at jamiefororegon.com

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Audio Transcript

Yasemin Cobanoglu  0:11  
Today in the studio, we're lucky to be talking with Jamie McLeod-Skinner who's running as a Democrat for Oregon's- Oregon Secretary of State on the November 2020 ballot. McLeod-Skinner ran for Congress for Oregon's Second Congressional District in 2018, and set new records for democratic turnout. This included winning two counties that tend to lean conservative Deschutes and Hood River. She currently holds both an elected and an appointed office in Oregon. She's an elected board member of the Jefferson County Education Service District, and was also appointed by Governor Kate Brown as a board member at-large for the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which provides grants to restore and protect watersheds and habitats. Prior to this, she served as a city councilor in Santa Clara, California for eight years. She has a degree in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a master's in regional planning from Cornell, and a law degree with an emphasis in Indian law, environmental law and water rights from the University of Oregon. She also worked for the International Rescue Committee in post-war Bosnia and Kosovo, rebuilding schools, hospitals and sanitation systems. And fun fact, she graduated from Ashland High School where the record she set in the 800 meters still stands.

Michele Coppola  1:27  

Yasemin Cobanoglu  1:29  
Thank you so much for being here today. So I guess our first question is just, what inspired you to run for Secretary of State?

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  1:36  
All my life, I've been committed to good governance, that started back when I was a kid. I actually lived in East Africa as a young child. My mom took a teaching job there and some of my classmates were refugees from Uganda who had fled Idi Amin, and that early experience, my work in Bosnia and Kosovo and a belief that we have the best imperfect form of government there is, but it really requires us to step up and get involved and hold it accountable. So I've been committed to good governance, the race for Congress was really to bring accountability to Washington D.C., and we saw the House flip. And there's some issues here in- in- in Oregon, that I think we really need to address and there's some tremendous opportunities through this role as well. But I'm- it's important to me to bring folks together to solve the problems we can all agree needs to be fixed and that we can take care of that.

Michele Coppola  2:25  
I wanted to ask, a lot of people are familiar with what the Secretary of State does on a national level, it's the nation's diplomat and so forth. On a state level, can you describe for us what the Secretary of State position is and why it's important?

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  2:39  
Absolutely. And I believe that the Secretary of State is the most important statewide role in Oregon right now with- with redistricting coming up, but there's so many aspects to the role that people don't- don't really get. You know, a lot of folks realize that there's the oversight to our elections and the election security integrity piece are critical. A lot of folks realize that that the Secretary of State oversees our audit process. And we're actually the only Secretary of State in the nation that also oversees audits of state agencies. There's a seat on the state Land Board. So it's overseeing how we manage our state lands and waterways. And so having an environmental background is really critically important. But also registering businesses, I was registering corporations and businesses, the- the role in overseeing our- the state archives, and there's opportunities there in terms of telling the state story that can be really unique. There's- there's a role on the on the- the statewide school board that is important in the background and education is really important there. A lot of folks realize that it's essentially the Lieutenant Governor though we don't call it that only one- only 10 states in the country have the Secretary of State serve as a lieutenant governor and this super important role following the 2020 Census. And don't forget to please respond to the Census we need to count everyone that's really important-- little plug. But after the census every 10 years, every- every state in the nation redraws its political boundaries. So if you've heard of gerrymandering, that's when they're drawn very unfairly. So the process here in Oregon is it goes through a state legislature, the governor signs; it if that system breaks down, so if there's a walkout, like we saw last session, then it falls on the Secretary of State's shoulders to draw those political boundaries for the next 10 years. That can shape the politics and the power in our state for the next 10 years. It's incredibly important.

Michele Coppola  4:38  
So given that the Secretary of State has so many duties and responsibilities, can you tell us what your priorities would be in that position?

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  4:45  
Yeah, absolutely. So, making sure our voices are heard, election security, and integrity is critically important. Here in Oregon, we have paper ballots, that's- that's a step ahead of a lot of states, but we also- there's still security measures we need to put in place and election integrity, bringing more people into the process. That's one. The second is- is building up accountability, accountability of government and building public trust. That's where the audit process, and then the state lands piece my environmental background. So working, not only now is it an attorney, environmental attorney and consultant, but my background in water systems, making sure that we have a long term sustainable vision for our state lands and waterways. I mean, that's when we're talking about climate change. That's a way we can address it through this office.

Yasemin Cobanoglu  5:29  
So what of those- what do you think would be the biggest problem facing Oregonians? And I know that covers a vast swath of different people from urban to more rural? Is there anything that you would say unites all Oregonians that we're all facing together?

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  5:42  
Well, absolutely. All those key points. You know, we all regardless your party affiliation, wanting to have our voices be heard and free and fair elections. That's something we can agree on. Wanting government to be accountable and and making sure our taxpayer dollars are well spent. That's something that- that across the board we can agree on. And when we're looking at audits, I don't look at just or, you know, when I'm promoting is not just looking at financial audits. So the, you know, making sure that the dots are- i's are dotted T's are crossed. I'm also talking about performance audits. So is the money spent as intended, that's been an issue in the state, and equity audits. So we can make sure that we're addressing equity issues through our audit process, also information security to protect kids and the elderly. But that equity audit process is something that we can really do to sink our teeth into where we're seeing a lot of- a lot of issues that we really need to address here in Oregon right now.

Michele Coppola  6:35  
Let's talk a little bit about your congressional campaign. You know, Oregon is like a lot of states your urban areas tend to be more liberal, your rural areas tend to be more conservative, but you were able to basically bridge that divide and I want to hear your thoughts about what you thought inspired people from Deschutes and Hood River to vote for a Democrat.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  6:54  
Well, I think what's really important is to realize that we have progressive, and real liberal folks in- in rural areas as well. And just like you have conservative folks in urban areas, but it's- it's really seeing, finding those- those issues of common interest. And then also sometimes it's just the language we use, or kind of these political silos we've gotten into. You know, I had wheat growers in Wasco County, so most folks would hear that and think ah, conservative Republican, talking to me about climate change, because who- think about it, who is the most impacted by our changing climate? It's folks in the ag community, folks- ranchers and folks in the- in the forestry industry. So folks who are super concerned about the direction things are going, but we get caught up politically in the shouting match, and then we fail to move forward on legislation. So I found people really hungry for working together to find solutions. We have the opportunity to do that statewide. And that's what people really respond to. I mean, I'm a proud lifelong Democrat, but I can't tell you how many Republicans came up to me and said, I've never voted for a Democrat before, but you're talking about what makes sense, what we need right now. And that's where we need to get back to in politics, I think.

Yasemin Cobanoglu  8:09  
So what do you think is differentiating you from all the other candidates that we'll see on the ballot in November?

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  8:15  
Sure, well, we've got the primary first coming up in May. And that's going to be the first challenge. I think the first piece is just the, you know, I mentioned the Secretary of State's role and how complex it is and the- how diverse it is. Well, I actually am the lone candidate who is experienced in all the different areas. So I worked for many years with refugee and immigrant communities, on things like naturalization, on voter outreach. And so working with diverse communities, bringing people into the process. I've done that work before. I've been in elected office now going on nine years, so having that experience, but when it comes to government, looking at audits, to understand how government functions, you need to understand there are many different perspectives. There's the frontline staff perspective, there's a management perspective. And there's the policymaker, the lawmaker perspective. I'm the only one who's been in all of those different roles and has that different experience. I'm the- I'm the only one has been a union member. I was a union member over 10 years. And, you know, international experience, I've managed multimillion dollar projects, I've managed teams, I've done all those pieces, the environmental background, not only my- my law background, but also my engineering background and designing systems. I worked as environmental planner for- for five years. You know, it's a 2,000,00- 2 million population, urban and rural. So all of that experience really ties in. But there's also some really creative things we can do. I didn't go into this part of it, but things like on the- the State Archives, it's telling the state story. And there's an opportunity to tell our state story from all the different perspectives of people have had different backgrounds that bring their experience to the table and make us who we are as Oregonians, so there's all sorts of creative things we can be doing, as well as hosting town halls around the state and bringing people together to have these tough conversations. So I have that experience, I have a real passion for it. And then also, I would be the only one who has experience throughout the state. So all our other statewide elected officials are- are from the Portland area. And in the primary all my, my colleagues running are all from the from the Portland Metro area. I have urban experience. I worked in Silicon Valley for over 10 years, but also have that rural experience and rural understanding. And I think that understanding is really important to bring to the table. And then one last thing it's just again, the outreach my- my website, JamieforOregon.com, it's in English and Spanish we've got translation on there where we're committed to really reaching out and bringing people into the process.

Michele Coppola  10:49  
You sound like a renaissance woman, so the Secretary of State position would be a good one for you. Being a member of the LGBTQ community, how has that impacted your campaign?

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  11:01  
Well, let me say this. I have the- I came out when I was a young adult back in the 80s. And I, you know, I've had some really painful experiences with homophobia in my life. And keep in mind that back then, things were very different politically. I mean, you know, Demo- as a Democrat today, you almost couldn't get elected, if you're not supporting the LGBTQ community. Back then it was just the opposite. And so, we've seen things come a long way, but, but I have used those experiences to really inform my thinking about how we create good and safe government. So for example, I don't know what it's like to be a woman wearing a hijab going into an Islamophobic setting. But I do know what it's like to have someone look at you, someone who knows nothing about you as a person, look at you with absolute hatred in their eyes. And so, I take from that experience, you know, my- my responsibility then as elected official and as a community leader is to help shape and create an environment where folks don't have that pit of the stomach experience. And so working with other communities that they're- they're folks that I won't know their own personal experience. But I know the experience of not being respected and being looked down on and not being heard. And we've got folks across our state right now, who are not feeling heard. You mentioned that the typical assumptions about urban/rural divide, there are plenty of Democrats throughout rural areas who are not feeling heard, even by the Democratic majority that's more urban based. So it really cuts across that political spectrum. Being rural is almost more of an identity. It's both a more kind of independent minded but also interdependent minded because we know we're relying on our neighbors. So it's a- it's more of an identity that- that's bringing that- bring to the table. But it's it's just one of the many identities that I've experienced and in- in that knowing that sense of otherness I think helps me to relate to others who are in that position themselves. But I used to like to say when I was in the congressional race, a lot of people in urban areas would ask me about 'how is it, you know, being gay and being out lesbian in Eastern Oregon,' right? And I actually would have incredible experiences of conservatives coming up to me and thanking me for being out because they have family members who are gay. But my favorite response to it was say, 'Look, I'm not afraid to tell people in Eastern Oregon, I'm gay. What makes me nervous, is telling people in Ashland, that I listen to country music.' 

Michele Coppola  13:32  
[laughs] I was a country music DJ for about 20 years

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  13:35  
Oh, there you go. There you go. 

Michele Coppola  13:36  
Yeah. I know that bias 

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  13:38  
You know that exactly.

Michele Coppola  13:39  
I feel your pain

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  13:40  
You see what I'm saying. We are very there- we're complex, even, you know, as an urban woman, you know, the experience. 

Michele Coppola  13:44  
Right, exactly. So what I wanted to touch on now is a little bit with your community dispute mediator experience, that sort of, sort of you've touched on it a little bit when you've been talking and- and definitely that's experience that you have. How is that Going to help you, you know, in the position of Secretary of State?

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  14:04  
Yeah, it's such a great question. And it's funny, someone was asking me about that earlier today, I think it's more of a mentality and experience of having a long term vision of where you want to go. And, you know, we're human beings, conflict is inherent, but trying to figure out how to help us all work together through our own stuff to hear each other and move together towards that long term goal. You know, it's not just the formal training in the community- the volunteer community mediation I did for years when I was in the Bay Area, but it was even when I was, you know, I was working in Kosovo, and working in mixed villages and this was post-war and there was tremendous conflict.We had, you know, I go into a school where the two school directors there would be the Serb director and the Albanian Kosovar director, who had not spoken to each other in years, there would be a brick wall up the middle of the school, and the Serbian government then was in charge, but the majority of the population was Albanian. And so my job was essentially to do a project in that in that community, in that village, and in that- that building was to run shuttle diplomacy between the Serb director and the Kosovar director, and to talk about their needs and concerns and interest, and then share those needs back and forth, have them agree and consense on what we needed to do and where we need to go forward with that project, then find community volunteers, so building up that trust in the community, and getting people to work on the shared project. And I can't think of an exception to this, but by the end, we would start with these separate meetings, and by the end, we would be holding joint meetings. And it sounds like a small thing, but it was actually huge. And I was thinking about that the other day, because that's almost what we're doing politically, between Republicans and Democrats, that same mentality of getting us to focus on, you know, regardless of party affiliation, we care about our families, we care about our communities. We want to put a roof over our head and food on our table. We want opportunities for our kids. We want health care for families. I mean, this is all true. So how do we work together on these things and that's really- it's it's an- Yes, I've had some formal training in it, but it's also just the kind of work I've done all my life.

Michele Coppola  16:04  
Well, it sounds like you are an expert at being involved in combative situations. So bridging that red and blue is going to be, it's going to be definitely something that you'll- you'll have to do in this state or or anywhere that you would be. Thank you so much for being with us. Today we have been speaking with,

Yasemin Cobanoglu  16:20  
with Jamie McLeod Skinner who is running for Oregon Secretary of State, the primary is May,

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  16:27  
May 19, may 19. 

Yasemin Cobanoglu  16:29  
May 19. 

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  16:30  
Your ballots will go out in late April. My website is JamieforOregon.com if you want info, let me just say this really fun, fun fact that my first time on a radio was back, I was a student DJ of Homo radio, which is only the fourth LGBTQ radio show in for RPI when I went there. So that takes me back.

Michele Coppola  16:48  
Yeah, no doubt. It's been a pleasure having you. You're obviously very good at it. So 

Jamie McLeod-Skinner  16:52  
Thank you. Thank you both so much for all you're doing for our community. It's really-it's really wonderful. So thank you. Yeah.

Yasemin Cobanoglu  16:57  
Thank you so much.

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