May, 2021: We Took Back Our School Board
Progressive Salem has been working to take back our Salem-Keizer School Board from conservative, pro-life Republicans since 2017. Salem-Keizer does not have a Republican majority and there is no reason Republicans should be able to win a majority on our school board. But they were able to do this through a strategic alliance with Oregon Right to Life, a statewide advocacy group that has been working for many years to take away women's reproductive rights in our state. Their efforts have been, and continue to be, unsuccessful in the Legislature and with several failed ballot initiatives. So beginning in 2015 Oregon Right to Life set out to elect school board members in several districts in the state, including here in Salem-Keizer where they were successful in electing Marty Heyen, the wife of the Chair of the Marion County Republicans. The idea was that these school board members could build their resumes and then run successfully as pro-life Republicans for the Legislature.
The plan to elect school board members worked, thanks to the fact that Oregon Right to Life takes in hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to their political action committees every year and is basically able to spend whatever it takes to win these seats against much less well-funded opposition.
Progressive Salem found that out in 2017. We did help to elect progressive Sherrone Blasi that year, but Oregon Right to Life won victories for Kathy Goss and for Jesse Lippold Peone who defeated our candidate Levi Herrera-Lopez, running to be the first ever Latinx school board director. In 2019 our candidates, Raul Marquez and David Salinas were again defeated by well-funded Oregon Right to Life candidates. Oregon Right to Life was now in control of the school board with a working majority of four directors.
In planning for the May 2021 school board election, Progressive Salem realized we needed to be part of a broader coalition to take on the money-power of Oregon Right to Life. In late 2020 we teamed up with others to form Community for Salem-Keizer Schools. The coalition included racial justice organizations, BIPOC youth, parent and school advocates, progressive organizations, educators, labor leaders, and others who shared a determination to take back our school board from a conservative minority.
After a careful process involving interviews with nine potential candidates, the coalition selected this highly-qualified slate of four candidates, who, if elected, would become the new progressive majority on the Salem-Keizer School Board.
Zone 1 Osvaldo Avila
Osvaldo is the son of Mexican immigrant farmworkers who had few opportunities in life. His father had to drop out of school in the third grade. Growing up, teachers dismissed Osvaldo’s potential, and called him “a future ditch digger”. Yet, he believed in his education, and ultimately earned a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy from PSU. He has had an 18-year career in Higher Education, focusing on helping Latinx students gain access to and succeed in college. He is now a Talent, Innovation, & Equity Administrator with the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission. To learn more go to: https://www.osvaldo4skboard.com/.
Zone 3 Ashley Carson Cottingham
Ashley is a 5th generation Oregonian whose grandparents were farmers and educators. She is an attorney who has spent her life advocating for children, seniors, people with disabilities, and accessible health care. Her accomplished career includes working for a US Senate committee on health care and serving as Director of the Oregon Office of Aging and People with Disabilities. She is now an Acting Division Director at the Oregon Employment Department. To learn more go to: https://www.ashley4oregon.com.
Zone 5 Karina Guzman Ortiz
Karina is the proud daughter of immigrants from Hidalgo, Mexico. Raised in Salem, and now the mother of two children in Salem-Keizer schools, she has deep roots in our Latinx community. She will bring great experience to the Board, from working as a substitute teacher in the School District, running the CAPACES youth program, and working for community-based organizations to build and strengthen community and family relationships. Karina earned a Masters of Social Work at PSU and now works in the Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education. To learn more go to: www.Karinafororegon.com.
Zone 7 Maria Hinojos Pressy
Maria is the mother of preschooler in a bilingual, bicultural family. She has a Master’s in Sociology, and is the Operations Director at PCUN, Oregon’s Farmworker Union, and the Willamette Valley Law Project. She is a committed volunteer and Latinx community advocate, serving on the Cherriots Board of Directors, the Keizer Points of Interest Committee, the Salem Keizer Coalition for Equality, and Lutheran Community Services Refugee Resettlement Program. To learn more go to: www.maria4oregon.com.
How We Did It
As our Community for Salem-Keizer Schools was recruiting candidates and preparing to mount successful campaigns, the conservative Oregon Right to Life school board majority, led by Satya Chandragiri and Danielle Bethell was sinking further and further into dysfunction.
The Board failed to do anything to sanction their member, Paul Kyllo, who wore a blackface mask throughout an entire Board meeting in early 2020. The board majority turned a deaf ear to hundreds of students, parents and teachers who demanded an end to the School to Prison Pipeline. They refused to read a proclamation for Gay Pride Month, and Marty Heyen even stated her belief that sexual orientation and gender identity was a "lifestyle." They were openly criticized by Superintendent Christy Perry for not listening to students of color who make up the majority of students in the district. The Board majority's dysfunction and their allegiance to Oregon Right to Life was exposed in a detailed article by award-winning reporter Eddy Binford-Ross that appeared in The Clypian, the South Salem High School newspaper.
Having spent over $100,000 to elect their candidates in the past two election cycles, Oregon Right to Life committed twice that amount to electing a slate of four unqualified conservative candidates in 2021. They flooded mailboxes with postcards from their phony front groups, Marion+Polk First, Protect Kids PAC and the Women's Leadership Coalition. They called our candidates "Woke Socialists" and employed other negative campaign tactics that the 45th President would approve of.
But it didn't work for them this time. Our coalition, Community for Salem-Keizer Schools, and our outstanding highly-qualified candidates were actually able to outspend Oregon Right to Life. We received substantial financial support from 12 labor unions. We made many thousands of voters contacts with our corps of volunteers and we got out the vote in the end to take back our school board and win a new progressive majority that will take their seats on July 1st
Seven years ago there was just one progressive member of the Salem City Council. In 2022 there are six — a working majority. This despite the fact that powerful business interests went all out to flip the Council in 2020. Their candidates spent over $122,000 to try to win in Wards 1, 3 and 7. But once again Progressive Salem was able to prove that organized people can beat organized money. The assistance we provided to Virginia Stapleton, Trevor Phillips and Vanessa Nordyke helped to win the election handily for these three candidates. It wasn't even close. We beat big money and we will do it again to make sure the Salem City Council is working to benefit the citizens of Salem and not the special interests.
Since 2014, when a group of activists who would establish Progressive Salem in 2015 worked to elect Tom Andersen to the the City Council, we have successfully elected progressives in 10 City Council elections:
Tom Andersen (2014)
Cara Kaser (2016)
Matt Ausec (2016)
Sally Cook (2016)
Chris Hoy (2017)
Tom Andersen (2018)
Chris Hoy (2018)
Virginia Stapleton (2020)
Trevor Phillips (2020)
Vanessa Nordyke (2020)
How did we do it? Our mantra is "Organized People Beat Organized Money." Our conservative opposition raises big bucks from special interest groups and then floods voters' mailboxes with negative postcards. We do it differently. We knock on doors and talk to voters. We make phone calls, and we give Democrats and other progressives a positive message about our outstanding candidates. Then we get out the vote with more phone calls and door knocking. To do this we need a lot of volunteers. We need you!