Maria Rubio was last in public service as the policy director to former mayor Tom Potter. She brings broad government experience to her run for county commissioner, and says she was planning to run for the seat when it came open, all along. Now, she’s made the quick decision to get in the race following the surprise death of State Treasurer Ben Westlund and subsequent shuffle at the county leaving a vacant seat. She stresses more collaboration between county and city government, and even mentioned the words “sales tax” during our interview when asked about possible revenue reform ideas. Read the Mercury’s interview with Maria Rubio after the jump.
Why are you running?
“I’m running because I feel like I’ve been preparing for this all of my career. I feel like I am unique, like all the candidates, in that I bring something different—a lot of experience in government at every level. I’ve worked at the federal, state, county and city levels of government. At the same time I think I’ve been away from it enough that I’m not a bureaucrat. I feel that I bring some real management and leadership skills—I’m really excited about the future of the county, with the census, we’re going to be getting a lot of new data and I’m excited to start working with that on new initiatives.
Obviously we know you from working for former Mayor Tom Potter, but tell us some more about your experience.
“I’ve worked in the Portland area since 1969 when my family moved here from Califronia. We were migratory farmworkers, and my family settled here in Oregon. Since then I’ve been working in the public sector. I started out in employment and training at the county level, and then I worked for the sheriff’s office for nine years in Washington County. I’ve worked at the sate level at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, and at the federal level in Washington DC in for the US Department of Justice in 1998. My work there really broadened my view in terms of how the federal government interacts with state and local government. The Clinton administration was making funding available to local jurisdictions to move toward community policing. When I came back in 2002, I was Executive Director of the Community Policing Institute at Western Oregon University where we delivered training to six states in the western region through a federal grant. And then I came to work for Tom Potter’s office where I had the opportunity to see how things work at the city level. When I was in DC, I was fortunate to see the political and philosophical shift between the Clinton and Bush administration. We went from working on police reform to homeland security and anti-terrorism which seemed all of a sudden to make everyone a suspect. I believe that this environment has made police-community relations more difficult.”
How do you think you stack up against your competitors?
“If I didn’t feel I was the best qualified, I wouldn’t run. I think every one of the people on the slate are outstanding individuals, I think they are all uniquely qualified, but I think what I bring is what the county needs.”
How, exactly, compared to some of the other candidates?
“I think because my experiences are broad. Loretta [Smith] has worked federally, Chuck [Currie] is more local, I think Tom [Markgraf] has worked federally. [Paul] Van Orden is very local, with city experience, and Karol’s [Collymore] is a little bit broader. I feel like I’m bringing an outsider perspective. You know, what I was thinking about today when I was reading about the changes that auditor Griffin-Valade is initiating with the IPR, I think it took someone with fresh eyes coming in to take things to the next level. I think sometimes we get comfortable within the systems that we work in and it takes that fresh perspective to make changes.”
What would be your priorities at the county, which you’d bring fresh eyes to?
“I’ve been thinking about that for the last four days, because that’s long I’ve been a candidate. I have not completed my platform yet, but with the high unemployment, I think we should partner with the state to really bring some innovative programs here to put people back to work earning a living wage. We have too many people working full time while living in poverty. That creates a lot of stress on society, and not just on the workers but on their families. Another thing would be collaboration between the city and county on public safety, not only policing but also preparedness. I believe we need to work more closely, and maybe even think about consolidation in some areas. When I was at the mayor’s office, we identified nearly 35 ways to save money, but they didn’t go anywhere, mainly because an elected sheriff said no.”
Does that mean you support an appointed sheriff?
“I do. Especially in an urban county like we have, where the sheriff isn’t really patrolling. And I’ve seen it work well in other areas of the country. I think in rural counties where people really count on sheriff patrol services, it’s different. But I don’t like the fact that the city makes all the decisions in some areas and the county makes all the decisions in other areas. I think we need to work together as elected officials, to come up with the best solutions.”
What do you think of Chair Wheeler's idea to take control of jail management from the Sheriff's office?
“Well, I don’t know how I feel about that. I think the Sheriff Office needs to be more accountable, and I think the county board of commissioners needs to be more aggressive in establishing some sort of accountability system with them. If we are not appointing the sheriff, we should not take over control of jail management.”
Are there any other areas where city and county might work together?
“Re-looking at the way that state revenues are distributed to services versus infrastructure. I want to really look at that and see how we can make it more equitable.”
Whose endorsement are you most proud of and why?
“It’s only been four days, and I have, of course, thankfully, my ex-boss, Mayor Tom Potter and School board member Martin Gonzalez. I’m actively seeking other endorsements. But I’m really proud of those endorsements.”
Mayor Potter was a one-term mayor and he wasn’t able to advance his agenda as far as he might have liked. Do you think that will affect your chances in this race?
“I don’t, because the mayor started a lot of things. First I would say that change takes time, and I think we made a lot of inroads at the police bureau’s internal systems and accountability, improving and focusing on disaster preparedness with the office of emergency management. There were also a lot of internal changes that set the groundwork for the new administration to work on to take to the next level. I think he also created a lot of social change, in terms of people feeling like this is their city, their city hall. And people who had never came to city hall are there a lot now. That was one of his goals."
Whose endorsement would you most like, and why?
Well I think I have the one I would most want.
And that would be Mayor Potter’s?
Is this race all about getting through the primary? It feels like everyone’s trying to distinguish themselves from the field to get through the May election and then have a proper discussion.
“I think what’s going on here is we’re all at the beginning of our candidacy, and we’re not really at a place where we can have a good discussion or debate. I fully expect to come out on top, otherwise I wouldn’t do this.”
Do you agree that the three favorites for this seat are Karol Collymore, Chuck Currie and Gary Hansen?
“No. I think it’s wide open right now, and I don’t see why they are the top three. I know that Karol has name familiarity and that she’s on the inside, but beyond that I don’t see why the others are the three frontrunners.”
How much money are you hoping to raise?
“I haven’t started raising funds yet, I’m still getting organized. We’ll hopefully have a committee in place by tomorrow afternoon. Between now and the primary, I’m hoping maybe, $30,000.”
How are you going to run this campaign?
“On a positive note, with the look toward the future, and going as community-wide as possible.”
Why aren’t people bringing Wapato up as a priority in their run?
“I think, unfortunately, because a meaningful solution hasn’t been developed and it really is nobody’s fault. There are lots of different reasons why things didn’t work as they should have, but I do think we should consider contracting with the state to look at preparing people for reentry to the community there after prison. And of course it was developed treatment as a treatment facility too, so we need to start using those beds.”
How would you bring in more revenue at the county?
“I was going to say consolidation, but collaboration and consolidation, and I’m a fan of a sales tax.”
Everyone seems so set against the idea.
"I know, they do, and I don’t understand it quite frankly, because I think we’re losing out on a revenue source that could create financial stability, and also we could benefit from our tourists industry. I just think we need to start thinking outside the box.”
Is there any issue that I haven’t raised that you’d like to raise?
“I really would like to make government more transparent. I don’t think people really understand what government does, and I think if they did, then they would support it and keep government accountable.”
Is there a way you might think about doing that? Obviously the press is dying so journalists aren’t doing as good a job as they used to be.
“I’ll have to think about that. You know the other thing I was thinking about is elected officials really looking at issues across boundaries. Just because something is a city issue, doesn’t mean that the county chair isn’t going to be concerned.”
I’ve been asking Mayor Sam Adams to look at mental health funding lately and his office has been saying it’s a county issue. Does that trouble you?
"Well yes, it does, because that’s kind of what I referred to at the beginning. Yes, it’s the county’s jurisdiction, but you need to be a part of the solution. I just don’t think that we should be so exclusive with our jurisdictional authority and responsibility."
Did you support the recall effort?
"I’d rather not respond to that."
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