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Interview with Laurie Monnes Anderson, Oregon Senator

headshow 2019

Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson is the president pro tempore of Oregon’s 80th Legislative Assembly. Prior to being elected to the School Board, the Oregon House of Representatives, and now the Senate, she was a public health nurse for over two decades in East County. In her healthcare career, she served vulnerable populations, including drug-addicted mothers and babies, as well as at-risk seniors.

Sen. Monnes Anderson works with countless community associations to advance local legislation and causes, including the Gresham Historical Society, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Women’s Auxiliary, and the Gresham and West Columbia Gorge Chambers of Commerce. She holds a bachelor of science in nursing from Radford University, a bachelor’s in biology from Willamette University, and a master’s in biology from the University of Colorado, where she worked as a research biologist studying cancer.

Sen. Monnes Anderson is the chair of the Senate Committee on Health Care and vice-chair of Veterans and Emergency Preparedness. She is a member of several others. Overall, she is celebrated for her commitment to raising the minimum wage, investing in job creation, implementing paid sick leave, protecting affordable housing, supporting funds for public education, and making quality, cost-effective healthcare more accessible for all Oregonians.

Please note that this interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview Questions

[] So before serving as a representative and now a senator, you were a research biologist, a public health nurse, and a school board member. What shaped your decision to get into government?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] I grew up in the 1950s and went to high school and college in the 60s. In those days, women worked for reproductive health freedom and those types of things but never really thought about running for public office. I didn’t think about it until Governor Kitzhaber approached me.

That has changed today. We have trainings for women on how to run a good campaign and how to get into public office. Back then when I was asked, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was in a swing district in Gresham. I lost that first election and I learned a lot from it. Since I have a competitive nature, I tried again and won.

You have to have a thick skin. You have to be a little competitive in nature and the rewards are unbelievable. I just feel so honored to be representing my district.

[] Your tenacity is one of the things I admire about you from my research. You’ve already enjoyed a career fighting for progressive causes. You chair the Health Committee; you vice-chair the Veterans Committee; and you serve on several others. You’ve worked to strengthen child abuse laws and safeguards for the most vulnerable among us. You’ve supported affordable healthcare for Oregonians, sensible gun regulations, environmental protections, and many other forward-thinking policies. What are your top three priorities for this 80th legislative assembly?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] Well, healthcare is my top, top priority. That’s because I’m a retired nurse. As a public health nurse, I actually had experience working with low-income families, at-risk families, drug-addicted moms during pregnancy, and others.

We have to make sure that we have equity and fairness in our healthcare system. We now have 94 percent of Oregonians covered by a health insurance plan, which is wonderful, but we still have a ways to go. Right now, we have no idea what’s going to happen with the federal government regarding healthcare; it’s such turmoil back there.

On the floor tomorrow we will pass a revenue package for nearly $400 million to help shore up our Oregon health plans and Medicaid. So that’s number one. Healthcare is my passion and love; it’s been my career.

[] Yeah, absolutely. What are your next two priorities after healthcare?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] Well, I am a strong proponent of my district. This may sound mundane, but Gresham is number eight in the nation for car theft. My son has his car stolen at Mt. Hood Community College. A friend of mine had her car stolen from her driveway. It’s very traumatic for people.

I introduced a bill two sessions ago and it was not successful, but now there are people in the House who share my interest in car theft because Portland is number five in the nation. We are working to modify the bill that I introduced and hopefully get that passed.

And there are other local priorities. Reynolds High School really needs a health center, and I am working on trying to get money for that. So my second priority is to do things specifically for my district.

And third, I support the education package. I am going to follow the lead of our Revenue Chair and the Student Success Chair in advocating for better education and more revenue for schools.

[] Yes, that’s very important and I really admire your previous work on increasing budgets for public schools, as well. Another issue that you’ve had success on is gun control legislation: preventing domestic abusers from getting guns by closing the “boyfriend loophole.” You played an instrumental role there! Perhaps related to that, I’m curious: what specific laws or policies in Oregon would you like to see adopted nationally?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] Oh, wow. I think we’re on the forefront, hopefully. With guns, it’s controversial, but it’s a safety issue. And now that our students have to learn how to react if there’s a school shooting…it’s just tragic. If there’s any kind of gun safety bill, I’m definitely a proponent.

Let’s look at the history of the Second Amendment: when it was formed, people needed to have the right to bear arms for safety, but it certainly wasn’t meant to have as much leniency as it does today.

[] Loading a musket ball is much different than a high-capacity magazine.

[Senator Monnes Anderson] Yeah, exactly. Domestic violence is very concerning to me and there have been so many deaths in Oregon due to domestic abusers. They need to have their guns taken away. And for those who are mentally ill, there should be barriers, too.

[] I agree. So you shared an anecdote with the Senate in 2017 about the “Rocket Girls” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 60s. You noted, “One woman can change many things but many women can change everything.” As you probably know, Oregon is one of four states where women make up at least 40 percent of the legislature, which is awesome. So why do you think that women are still relatively underrepresented in government leadership?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] It’s hard for a woman to give up being at home to lead the family. I would love to see a change where it would be easier for more women to feel comfortable serving in the legislature. It is difficult.

I was a single mom and there was no way I could have run for office. I had to be home with my kids and I waited until I was at retirement age.

But the culture is changing. For Senator Fagan, who is newly elected, her husband stays at home to take care of the kids. She has an ideal situation. Senator Hayward also has a husband who was able to take care of her kids. Of course, they are now getting into college and childcare isn’t necessary.

[] How do you think Oregon’s relatively high proportion of women in leadership affects the governing compared to states with predominantly male legislatures?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] Oh I feel much more comfortable having women in the legislature rather than being in the minority with a lot of men. There’s a camaraderie that I can develop with a lot of women. And there are some wonderful men here, too.

We have to learn to back each other. Women sometimes aren’t the nicest to one another. Having worked in the nursing field, there can be backstabbing and we have to support one another 100 percent. It’s not going to help us if there’s jealousy or competitiveness within our own ranks.

So I’m a strong proponent of having a lot of women here.

[] Do you think that states like Oregon with more women in government have different priorities than states with more male-dominated legislatures?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] In a way, I think yes. We tend to take on issues such as child abuse, sex abuse, and sexism in the workplace. We’re not afraid to talk about these issues and change the culture or the system.

And that goes with human services and healthcare. We have that instinct to provide and nurture, which maybe doesn’t come across as readily in males. It relates to safety for our kids, good nutrition, and even helping low-income families or pushing for social service programs.

If people have a roof over their head and food on the table, you are having healthier kids, less domestic violence, and kids staying in school. It’s all interrelated and I think women really know that.

[] Yeah, I could see that. And I wonder how much of that is socialized as well. It’s a really interesting question.

[Senator Monnes Anderson] It is. I think men are becoming more nurturing also. I remember when a man never went into the birthing room of a child. Now, men participate and have a purpose in the process. They go to PTA meetings. They go to their kids’ events. The culture has certainly changed since when I was little.

[] I agree. So have you ever faced gender discrimination in any of your government roles?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] I can’t state a specific instance. I feel like I have been ignored sometimes or my views have not been accepted, but I don’t tend to let those things bother me.

My goal is to develop relationships with my fellow legislators, males and females. I feel that I have been successful because of the relationships that I have developed. I know discrimination exists, but I come from a different generation; I overlook it because I know what my goal is.

Now, the younger women are different. They are much more astute in not accepting some behaviors. I admire that and I’m sure it has to do with them having many more rights than I had when I was younger. For women in the 1950s, you were a secretary; you were a nurse; or you were a teacher. Those were the three things that you studied. But now, it’s totally changed and there are more opportunities.

[] It’s interesting that you point out the generational difference. I have noticed that the younger executives I’ve interviewed also have the vocabulary to address discrimination. I feel that in previous generations, women just put their heads down and got the job done, working three times as hard as their male colleagues.

[Senator Monnes Anderson] That’s right. That’s exactly right.

[] So what do you think are the unique challenges still facing women in government now?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] We’re still the main caregiver for our families. Our instinct is to make sure that we provide the love, support, and safety for our kids. I don’t necessarily call it a barrier, but we have to look at things like paid family leave and making sure there’s safe and quality daycare.

Those are issues that women are really focusing on. I hope that we can become like other industrialized nations in how we provide these services to our women and our families.

[] I want to ask you, Senator, are you a feminist? And what does that mean to you?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] [Laughs] Oh, I sort of hate to be called a feminist! And again, my generation is coming through here. I believe in women’s rights, but I’m not a bra-burner—that’s how I view a feminist. I want reproductive rights. I want equity in the healthcare system, in the educational system, and in the corporate world.

And so I’m going to be working to provide a just and equal environment for women to grow up in. I hate to use the word feminist because it has a bad connotation in my mind.

[] My last question is what advice would you give to other women interested in joining the Senate?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] Well, first of all, if you have any desire—even if it’s just local government—we need people in the school boards and city councils. Start local and get involved. But also, there are leadership trainings. Emerge is one program that comes to mind in the Portland area, where you actually learn how to campaign and what is involved. If I’d had that training, I probably would have won my first election! It’s just for women.

[] Emerge. I’m making a note of that. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

[Senator Monnes Anderson] I’m glad that you are doing this investigative reporting because we need to get the word out to women that, “We need you!”