In Joint Announcement, Three Veteran House Democrats Say They Won’t Seek Reelection

As a bill to increase lawmaker pay fails, Karin Power, Rachel Prusak and Anna Williams will exit.

Rep. Karin Power. (Thomas Teal)

Three veteran House Democrats today jointly announced they would not seek reelection this year in the light of the apparent failure of a bill that would have doubled lawmakers’ pay and provided extra compensation for child care.

The three state representatives, Karin Power, Rachel Prusak and Anna Williams, said they could not afford to work full time for part-time pay.

“We are a lawyer, nurse practitioner, and social worker,” the three said in a statement. “Seeing the hardships that families faced in our professional lives convinced us to run for office knowing these families deserved voices in our state government.

“But while the work of the Oregon Legislature was once part time, it is not anymore. Balancing our work, multiple day jobs, families and our service has become unsustainable. How much of a check on power can we be if we earn a base salary of less than $33,000 a year?”

The announcement comes late in the election cycle. The filing deadline for the May primary is March 8—just a week away—and while each of the three departing lawmakers easily won reelection in 2020, Democrats will now have to find replacements to run in newly redrawn districts.

At a time when the Legislature was already experiencing unusually high turnover, the unexpected departures will further deplete Democrats’ ranks. Each of the three lawmakers chairs a significant House committee, a sign that House leadership considers them valuable contributors.

Power (D-Milwaukie) is an environmental lawyer first elected in 2016. She chairs the House Committee on Early Childhood (she’s the mother of two young children) and is vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Prusak (D-West Linn), a nurse practitioner first elected in 2018, chairs the House Health Care Committee. Williams (D-Hood River), a social worker also first elected in 2018, chairs the House Human Services Committee.

At issue is Senate Bill 1566, which would have raised lawmakers’ pay from the current level of just under $33,000 to about twice that amount. (Lawmakers also get a $151 per diem payment for each day they are in session.) The Senate Rules Committee adopted an amendment last week that would also provide reimbursement of up to $1,000 a month per child under the age of 13 for six months during odd-numbered years and three months during even-numbered years.

Many Democrats in both chambers have said lawmaker pay is inconsistent with the workload required of them and makes it very difficult for young parents and people who must earn a living to run for legislative positions.

The three lawmakers who announced their resignations today emphasized that point.

“Most people cannot afford to even consider this job,” they said. “This service is not what our state deserves. If this system is built for the financially well off or the retired, will it ever work for you? What interests does this current structure serve?”

The lawmaker pay increase, however, is apparently dead this session. The appearance of lawmakers raising their own pay, a step Republicans and some Democrats opposed, held little appeal for legislative leaders in a year that already looks challenging for incumbents.

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