Lori Stegmann is running for Multnomah County commissioner in District 4. Here are her responses to Street Roots' 2016 general-election questionnaire. (Read other candidate responses.)
1. By nearly every metric, people of color are overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system. What are you going to do to correct that?
First, I want to start by acknowledging that many of the flaws in our criminal justice system are fueled by our society’s implicit and explicit biases. These biases have created significant structural barriers to education and economic opportunity for many Americans, particularly in communities of color.
Many of us understand that fear is what drives bias, and it’s imperative that as a community we examine our fears, acknowledge our biases and work to move beyond them. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We must look at other cultures and embrace their uniqueness and customs not with fear but with interest and respect. To do that, we have to create a space where it is safe to express ourselves according to our individual cultures and not be judged and punished.
As a Multnomah County commissioner, here’s what I will do to get racial bias out of our criminal justice system:
• Advocate for more active audits and specify targets for improvement to check for racial disparities at every major point in the criminal justice pipeline.
• Focus more on prevention and intervention, like increased investment in SUN schools (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) and other school-based programs.
• Seek a leadership position on the Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.
• Have more direct contact and connections with communities of color so more people have access to decision makers.
2. Across the county, there is a massive imbalance of resources for people in need, with services concentrated in Portland. How do you see the county’s role in getting its various municipalities to step up with dedicated resources to what is a regional need?
It has to be acknowledged that communities in District 4 – East Multnomah County – are bearing a disproportionate burden in the region. Gentrification in Portland has pushed more and more vulnerable people east, but the resources have not followed.
While the socio-economic status has improved for many in Multnomah County, it has had an inverse relationship in East County. High poverty, high crime, lack of available housing, an insufficient transportation system and low graduation rates have come home to roost here. Not only do we need our “fair share” of resources and investment, but we need more. I will be relentless in fighting for those resources.
My role as a commissioner is to represent the folks in my district from Southeast Portland, Corbett, Wood Village, Fairview, Troutdale, Gresham and the unincorporated areas. With so many different jurisdictions in District 4, I will have a unique opportunity to use my skills as a consensus builder to create a coalition that addresses the needs of East County. To do that, I will work closely with those individual jurisdictions on a regular and frequent basis. By having a direct link with those communities, I hope to leverage their individual contributions and challenges to garner support for more regional dollars.
We are seeing the fruits of a more collaborative approach to serving people in need. From the Joint Office of Homeless Services to A Home for Everyone Coalition to the work of East County Cares. But we must do more.
3. According to county statistics, ambulances responded to more than a dozen opiate overdoses each week in 2014, prompting steps to limit dosing. But one OHSU doctor even said, “We cannot emphasize enough the importance of expanding addiction treatment as well. We cannot decrease the access to opioids without having effective treatments available to patients.” What are you going to do to curb opiate deaths and addiction?
Many folks did not realize that the week of Sept. 18-24 was National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week. I think we missed a huge opportunity to educate the public. When I am on the Commission, I will make this a priority by promoting funding for education, prevention and treatment.
According to Walgreens, 4 out of 5 new heroin users start by misusing prescription opioids. I had the honor of attending Walgreens’ launch of its Safe Medication Disposal Kiosk Program here in Gresham a few weeks ago. As a Gresham city councilor, I am proud to say that we have had a kiosk for some time at our Gresham Police Department. People don’t realize the danger of leaving those leftover medications in their medicine cabinets. Now they have a safe and convenient way to dispose of those unwanted, unused or expired prescriptions.
As a member of Multnomah County’s Mental Health Department’s County Budget Advisory Committee, I had the opportunity to make recommendations to fund the use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoes. As you know, people who are at-risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose often cannot access this lifesaving drug.
Also, I am pleased to see that Congress passed the landmark opioid bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This act will promote the expansion of diversion programs that will divert low level drug violations away from the criminal justice system and into treatment.
4. In addition to the issues addressed above, what do you want to fix in the county?
As the county is responsible for public health, it is incumbent upon us to take a leadership role to educate the public about mental health. First, we need to work on destigmatizing mental illness. This is challenging because you can’t always see when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. They may look fine on the outside. We have to send the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
Most importantly, we have to make resources available to help heal people. We have urgent care clinics for our physical health; why can’t we have urgent care clinics staffed with mental health care providers and have walk-in care, 24 hours a day, spread throughout the county?
Secondly, we need to give kids and families the tools they need to improve their mental health. I volunteered at a “Challenge Day” in the Reynolds School District last year. The program is based on my favorite quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Throughout this one-day class, I witnessed first-hand the recognition of the trauma too many of our kids have experienced.
A space was created where both kids and adults felt safe, loved and celebrated. We learned how to be more compassionate, empathetic and kind toward one another. We learned that we had more in common with each than we thought. And that much of the cruelty we experienced was an expression of the inner pain that we all sometimes felt.
5. Why should people vote for you and not the other guy?
Even though my family struggled at times, I got a good education and was able to find a good job. I want everyone in our community to have those same opportunities.
I have a track record of getting real results and have the experience to be effective on day one. My community service includes six years as a Gresham city councilor and redevelopment commissioner, 14 years as a Soroptimist working to improve the lives of women and girls, and countless volunteer hours on school bonds and other community projects.
That’s why I’ve earned the endorsement of every major newspaper and bipartisan leaders, including Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, county commissioners Diane McKeel and Loretta Smith, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, the OLCV, Basic Rights Equality PAC, the Portland Business Alliance and many more (for a complete list, go to voteloristegmann.com).
I believe that when our public officials reflect the complexion of our community, we get better outcomes for all. When I take office, I will be the sixth person of color to serve on the commission in 162 years. And I will be the first Asian American ever to serve. This is a major milestone that is long overdue.