Two former south Salem city councilors hope to carry on at the state level the work they did locally.
Tom Andersen and T.J. Sullivan are competing for the House District 19 seat, representing south Salem.
The seat has been in Republican hands for over a decade, but redistricting removed much of the rural area southeast of Salem from the district, and added a portion of urban south Salem just south of downtown.
Following redistricting, the 19th has a Democratic lean, according to independent analysis site Dave’s Redistricting, which found 54% of district voters selected Democratic candidates in elections from 2016-2020.
Here’s what each candidate hopes to bring to the Capitol.
T.J. Sullivan, Republican
Sullivan, 49, is an insurance broker who wants to focus on business to the Capitol.
He served on the Salem City Council from 2004-2010 and has been out of politics since, but said he was asked to run for the seat by Rep. Raquel Moore-Green and others who thought he could represent south Salem well.
Sullivan said the way Democrats in the Legislature handled redistricting, shutting Republicans out of the process, inspired him to seek the seat.
“That was just kind of a bully move on their part and I don’t like bullies,” he said. He decided to run “just to really make them work for it. I’m excited to do it, I think I have a lot to add.”
Sullivan knows if elected he’d likely be in the minority party but said he’d push for improvements to legislation to address business concerns that Democrats might overlook.
“I think Democrats want to make the best policy possible. They certainly have their masters that they want to listen to, but they also want to make good policy and there’s just some times when just their lack of business acumen creates a blind spot for them that I could fill,” he said.
He said he’d approach that work as a legislator by asking local businesses which parts of the tax code or state regulations are making it difficult for them to expand, and focus on farmers and the agriculture industry.
“What are the parts of the tax code that are encouraging you to sell your family farm … and how do we ensure that we continue to have family farms passed down for generations?” he said.
Sullivan said the state’s homelessness problem is due in large part to mental illness and a lack of available treatment. He said the Oregon Health Authority is mismanaging the issue and focusing on Covid at the expense of other policy areas, like operating the state hospital.
“I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have been focused on Covid, but I’m just saying that you’ve got to learn how to pivot,” he said.
Oregon should focus on recruiting more mental health therapists to meet the need for care, he said.
“We have to start prioritizing this and setting some goals and holding people accountable to meet the goals. The goal should be to have the best mental health care system in the country,” he said.
On abortion, Sullivan is endorsed by Oregon Right to Life but said changing Oregon’s current laws aren’t a priority he hears from voters in his district, and he’d need to see the details in any restriction before voting for it.
Sullivan said if he felt a bill contained sufficient exceptions to protect a mother’s life and address medical complications, he would support banning abortion after the first trimester of pregnancy.
Sullivan supports expanding the school year so Oregon kids get more time in the classroom, noting that a longer school year would also help working families spend less on child care. To fund an expansion, he said he wants to look at how other states that spend less per student than Oregon have more instructional hours.
“As I go door to door and talk to people, I’m not hearing anyone say, ‘You know what, I’m really satisfied with the direction of our state,’” he said. “What I’m hearing is you know, can we just get some decent moderate people elected?”
Tom Andersen, Democrat
Andersen, 71, is seeking a higher office after two terms on the Salem City Council because he wants to do more to advance the environmental goals he pushed for in Salem to address climate change.
“We all need to do what we can and the further we move out from the very basic local government, the more effective our response to this crisis that’s going to affect our children, our children’s children and our children’s children’s children,” he said.
Andersen is an attorney in private practice in Salem and is known for riding his bike to city council meetings — a commuting practice he said he’d continue as a state representative.
On the city council, he pushed for the city’s plastic bag ban and the creation of Salem’s first climate action plan, which was adopted earlier this year.
Andersen said Oregon already has an ambitious climate agenda, which he would support, in addition to looking at interstate compacts with Washington and California to further reduce emissions. Making it easier for people to travel in ways that reduce carbon emissions is one of his priorities.
Andersen said combatting homelessness in Oregon requires a variety of solutions, including expanding shelter beds, building more affordable housing and outreach services.
“Homelessness is a huge issue. No one wants to see folks camping out in the parks, on the sidewalks. That stuff doesn’t look good and it gives people the impression that things aren’t safe, so we need to combat this in every way we can,” he said.
He cited the Salem City Council’s work with nonprofit organizations and agencies to expand shelter beds and create incentives for developers to build affordable apartment units as examples of policies that can help.
Oregon’s problems with mental health and addiction treatment stem from both a lack of funding and a need for better oversight of the agencies managing programs, Andersen said.
Andersen said his 45 years of experience as a trial lawyer will be useful in holding state agency directors accountable for outcomes. He cited addiction treatment funds in Measure 110 and Oregon’s sweeping Student Success Act as two areas legislators need to probe for data on outcomes.
“I know how to get people to answer questions they don’t want to answer. That’s cross examination,” he said.
Andersen said his legal experience will also help him work with Republicans to craft better policy and reach compromises.
“I do not make enemies out of my adversaries. I treat everyone with respect,” Andersen said. “The best settlement in a lawsuit is one where each side is a little unhappy, but each side can live with the results because it moves the matter forward. The same is true in politics.”
Andersen’s other priorities are supporting lower health care and prescription drug costs, and protecting abortion rights in Oregon.
The state has virtually no restrictions on the procedure. Andersen said he would oppose any new restrictions, noting that fewer than 1% of U.S. abortions are performed during third trimester, and those done later are typically because of risks to the health of the pregnant woman or fetal abnormalities.
“The vast majority of people in Oregon do not want legislators interfering with women’s own personal health choices,” he said.
CAMPAIGN MONEY: Here are totals for each campaign as reported by the state Elections Division as of Oct. 13. To look into individual donations and expenditures, start with this state website: Campaign finance.
Contributions: $177,568. Expenditures: $165,807. Cash balance: $12,761.
Top five donors: Evergreen Oregon PAC (campaign arm of the House Republicans), $95,570 cash and in-kind; Friends of Vikki (campaign committee for House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville), $17,500; Oregon Republican Party, $15,748 in-kind; Vips Industries Inc. (owners of Salem’s Grand Hotel), $5,068; Oregon Realtors Political Action Committee, $5,000; and Bring Balance to Salem Political Action Committee (largely funded by Nike founder Phil Knight), $5,000
Contributions:$340,043. Expenditures: $310,929. Cash balance: $37,015.56
Top five donors: Future PAC, House Builders (campaign arm of the House Democrats), $85,549 in-kind; Democratic Party of Oregon, $76,293 in-kind; Oregon Education Association PAC, $44,342 in-kind; Citizen Action for Political Education (political committee of the Service Employee International Union Local 503, which represents state and local government workers), $42,728; Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, $25,000
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.