Two south Salem civic veterans and legislators are vying to represent half the city in the Oregon Senate.
Deb Patterson, a minister with a background in health care policy, is seeking re-election to a second term against Raquel Moore-Green, a state representative and former consultant.
The district includes west and south Salem, the Salem hills area outside city limits and Independence and Monmouth.
It leans Democratic, according to an analysis from the independent website Dave’s Redistricting, with 54% of district voters selecting Democratic candidates in elections between 2016 and 2020, versus 41% selecting Republicans.
Deb Patterson, Democrat
Patterson, 66, narrowly won the seat in 2020 against Republican Denyc Boles, having no prior experience as an elected official. She’s lived in Salem since 2010 and has two adult children.
She’s a minister in the United Church of Christ and said her career listening to parishioner concerns sparked an interest in health care policy, because people so often came to her with problems affording medication.
She’s served on the Marion County Health Advisory Board, the Oregon Disabilities Commission and spent a decade as executive director of the International Parish Nurse Resource Center, now the Westberg Institute. She said that experience makes her better qualified for the seat because of her experience seeking solutions to health care issues and addressing people’s concerns.
Though a freshman legislator, she was appointed chair of the Senate Committee on Health Care, and used that position to push through a bill to review prescription drug costs in Oregon, SB 844.
Patterson said homelessness and the health care systems were her major focus during her first term, and she’d keep those issues top of mind if re-elected, along with public safety.
“We have to continue to work on housing,” Patterson told Salem Reporter. “One of the issues that’s a real barrier for people who are houseless right now, or fleeing domestic violence, is that they don’t want to leave behind their pets.”
She’s working on legislation to reduce that barrier by partnering with an organization to expand its successful pet-friendly shelters in Oregon.
Patterson worked as a senator to allocate money toward projects in the Salem area serving homeless people, including the city’s navigation center, currently under construction. The center will give homeless people a single destination to get help with services like rental assistance or health care needs.
She also helped secure $7.5 million in lottery bonds for a Center for Hope and Safety housing project for survivors of domestic violence, currently under construction.
Patterson acknowledged there’s frustration around homelessness in Salem and said much of that is due to two years of pandemic practices that led to the growth of large camps of people who weren’t being helped.
“CDC guidance was during the pandemic, don’t move people, we don’t want to exacerbate the pandemic. So we have two years pent up backlog of not being able to provide services to people,” she said.
But she said the projects she’s helped fund in Salem are making a difference, and that she’d continue to seek out ways to get support for local efforts to address housing and service needs.
“We’re making quite a bit of progress, but it just kind of seems like one thing gets covered at a time so everything looks like a drop in the bucket,” she said. “But when you add all those together, hotels and new apartment buildings and communities going up, it adds up. The funding that I was able to get when I was in office will impact housing and long-term services for over 2,500 people.”
Patterson said addressing understaffing in public safety is another priority, and she’s working on a bill to conduct a staffing study for the Oregon State Police.
“They’ve been at the same level for 20 years … some counties don’t even have sheriff’s departments. And so it’s a study to look at how the state of Oregon will increase recruitment and retention for the state police, it’s an overarching study of staffing levels,” she said.
She also intends to propose legislation that would allow police and firefighters who retire early to receive either government-paid or bridge health care coverage until they’re old enough to be covered by Medicaid.
On health care, Patterson said she’s concerned about rising costs and the viability of the state’s hospital system. She said she wants to see another quarter of financial data from hospitals to get a sense of what fixes are needed and how many of the issues remain surrounding staffing and rising costs.
“We obviously can still put together and will put together any needed changes after that,” she said.
Patterson said to combat rising cost of living, she’s pushing Oregon’s federal representatives to investigate price gouging by companies.
“Our energy companies at the national level are taking record profits home while we’re paying record prices here at the local pumps,” she said.
She’d also be willing to consider changes to Oregon’s gas tax, she said.
“We can’t expect people to have higher prices and fixed incomes,” she said.
Raquel Moore-Green, Republican
Raquel Moore-Green, 67, has lived in Salem for 30 years and ran a consulting business, rmg consulting, before becoming a state legislator. She’s been active in civic organizations, volunteering with the Salem Police Foundation, Salem City Club and other organizations.
She was appointed a representative for House District 19 in 2019, and won election in 2020.
After redistricting last year changed the boundaries for District 19, Moore-Green opted to run for a Senate seat.
Her priorities include improving Oregon’s behavioral health system, supporting local law enforcement, and increasing parental involvement in education while making it easier for charter schools to operate.
“This is a community that values education, that values safe streets and safe parks and that values its small business community,” Moore-Green told Salem Reporter. “I do not believe that those values are as well represented in the Senate as they could be by me.”
As a representative, Moore-Green served as vice chair of the House Behavioral Health Committee. She said she’s proudest of the legislation the committee worked on to increase funding to the state’s behavioral health system, like HB 2949, a bipartisan 2021 law setting aside $200 million for training and retention efforts for mental health workers in Oregon.
Like many Republican colleagues, Moore-Green said she’s concerned about the impacts of Measure 110, which Oregon voters passed in 2020 to decriminalize possession of user quantities of street drugs while directing some state marijuana taxes to fund expanded addiction services.
But she said it’s important not to repeal the law wholesale without something to replace it, and that legislators need to consider voter intent when doing so.
“I think everybody agrees … you shouldn’t be put in jail because you’re an addict,” she said. Where the law has fallen short is ensuring people actually get to treatment.
Voters “wanted people to have access to care so that they can stop their addictions,” she said. “We need to have some mechanism there that can help those people get to, get care.”
Moore-Green said she supports repealing some recent laws that she says have made it harder for police to do their jobs, including SB 1510, passed during the 2022 session, which says police officers cannot stop motorists solely because they have a faulty headlight, taillight or brake light. Patterson voted for the bill, which advocates said would cut down on police stops of people of color for frivolous reasons.
Moore-Green described the bill as a safety issue, saying a motorist without working lights can be an indication that a driver is impaired.
“I do think that we need to look at those and … reinstate those tools for the boots on the ground, to do their job,” she said.
She supports having police officers in local schools, saying they help with investigating child abuse. Moore-Green said Oregon needs more funding for police and related institutions, like jails, across the state.
“We need more jail space,” she said. “It’s not that we need to jail more people. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve grown statewide, we’ve grown by a million people, but we haven’t grown some of some of the things necessary to address the population growth.”
That includes building more housing as well, she said.
When Oregon legislators had a chance to earmark federal Covid relief money for projects, Moore-Green split her funds between more than a dozen local programs focused on homeless services, infrastructure and business relief. Those included $100,000 to Salem homeless service provider Church at the Park; $150,000 to the Willamette Career Center, a career and technical education program for high school students in Marion and Polk counties; and $100,000 to the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief fund.
On education, Moore-Green said she opposed the law passed last year to suspend a state requirement that high schoolers pass standardized tests in reading and math to graduate. She supports efforts to make curriculum materials more accessible to parents.
Current law allows public school districts to cap the number of students who can enroll in online charter schools at 3% of district enrollment, a limit Moore-Green said should be eliminated or raised. She said the process for charter schools seeking renewal, especially for longstanding schools like Howard Street in Salem, should require less paperwork.
“It really does need to be an easier process all the way through,” she said.
CAMPAIGN MONEY: Here are totals for each campaign as reported by the state Elections Division as of Oct. 12. To look into individual donations and expenditures, start with this state website: Campaign finance.
Contributions: $656,118. Expenditures: $606,759. Cash balance: $148,742.
Top five donors: Democratic Party of Oregon, $88,990 in-kind; Oregon Education Association PAC, $60,250 in-kind, $250 cash; Senate Democratic Leadership Fund (campaign arm of Senate Democrats), $53,088 in-kind; Citizen Action for Political Education (political committee of the Service Employee International Union Local 503, which represents many state and local government workers), $48,580 in-kind, $2,500 cash; Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, $25,000
Contributions: $1,257,713. Expenditures: $1,103,277. Cash balance: $327,273.
Top five donors: Bring Balance to Salem PAC (largely funded by Nike founder Phil Knight), $283,100 cash and $117,100 in-kind; The Leadership Fund (campaign arm of Senate Republicans), $229,685 in-kind; Friends of Frank Girod (campaign committee for the Republican Senator from Stayton), $90,000; Mountain West Investment Corp. $75,000; Commercial Property Resources Inc., $70,000
(Disclosure: Larry Tokarski, Mountain West president, is also a co-founder of Salem Reporter.)
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.