Stapleton to withdraw from council race to seek state House seat

Salem City Council President Virginia Stapleton will not seek reelection, instead setting her sights on the state Capitol.

Stapleton announced her campaign as a Democrat for House District 21 on Monday. She said her priorities will be supporting local government, especially schools and cities.

“It will be a lot of focus on trying to find sustainable revenue for those institutions, and doing what I can at the state level to try and get some reforms to measures 5 and 50,” she said. The two measures, from the 1990s, capped the rate cities could tax residents at and limited how quickly property taxes can grow.

Stapleton said she had been planning to wait a few years before running for the House, wanting to finish ongoing projects she’s leading on the council: a master plan for transportation upgrades, and implementing Vision Zero, an effort to reduce pedestrian deaths. 

“Those were two projects that I really had to wrestle with: was it worth walking away and trusting others with?” she said. She made the final decision last week.

“My husband and I, we looked at the numbers and looked at the timing for our family and it just felt right,” she said. “So we decided to make the leap.”

Stapleton was elected to the City Council in May 2020, and her current term ends on December 31. Her ward includes parts of downtown Salem and west Salem, and is bordered in the northeast by the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Her major focuses on council have been transportation improvements, funding homeless services and downtown development.

She was a proponent of the council’s effort last year to impose a payroll tax on Salem workers to fund city services. After voters referred the tax to the ballot, she led the campaign supporting the tax, which failed at the ballot box in November.

Stapleton has endorsed Paul Tigan, a former member of the Salem Budget Committee and her collaborator for the Save Salem Campaign to take her place in the City Council’s Ward 1 seat.

She said she will withdraw from the city council race once Tigan’s submitted qualifying signatures are verified, ensuring he will be on the ballot. He submitted over 80 on Monday, and needs 50 to run, she said. Tigan did not immediately respond to Salem Reporter’s request for comment.

Stapleton is running against Keith Haxton, who served as legislative assistant to Rep. Farrah Chaichi, for the Democratic nomination.

The winner of the May primary will challenge Rep. Kevin Mannix, a Republican and Salem attorney who took office in 2023. He previously served five terms in the House from 1988 to 1997.

Mannix ran on a platform of increasing spending for police and courts, and enacting tough on crime laws. He played a key role during the 2024 session in efforts to re-criminalize drug possession and address Oregon’s overdose crisis.

Mannix is the only Republican who has filed for the seat.

The district, which covers north Salem and Keizer, is politically competitive. Mannix won election in 2022 with 51.4% of the vote.

Salem Mayor Chris Hoy represented the district briefly after he was appointed in December 2021 to serve the remainder of Rep. Brian Clem’s term.

Stapleton said having two kids in the Salem-Keizer School District, one at Parrish Middle School and the other at North Salem High School, informed her decision to run. She said it has given her a closer perspective on teacher’s strikes and the lack of mental health care for students.

“The current representative, that time in his life was a while ago, so I’m kind of in it right now,” she said.

Stapleton said her other priorities at the state level will be to improve public, walking and biking transportation, to protect reproductive rights and the LGBTQ+ community and to address gun violence in schools and neighborhoods.

“Those are things that I’m really excited about tackling and I think that I’m the person with the good voice and good life experiences that can be a very good representative for our city,” she said.

Stapleton has been endorsed by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas, all Democrats, as well as Hoy. She also has endorsements from the Democrats representing the Salem area in the Legislature: Sen. Deb Patterson, Rep. Paul Evans and Rep. Tom Andersen, a former Salem city councilor.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.