Government, politics, Salem

The primaries: A look at Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, candidate for Oregon House District 32

Debbie Boothe-Schmidt. Photo courtesy of the Boothe-Schmidt campaign.

Four candidates have filed to replace outgoing House District 32 state representative Tiffiny Mitchell, two Republican party members and two Democratic Party members. This is the first of four articles examining each candidate in advance of the Oregon primary election.

ASTORIA – As the old saying goes, in politics as in life sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

Such is the hopeful perspective of Warrenton resident and Democrat Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, a Clatsop County trial assistant and co-owner of the Phog Bouncer Antique Mall in Astoria who found herself literally in the last minutes filing to run for election in the Democratic primary for Oregon House of Representatives’ District 32 seat, which currently is held by Tiffiny Mitchell (D-Astoria).

House District 32 includes communities along Oregon’s north coast from Astoria to Tillamook and parts of western Washington County, including Banks and Gales Creek. 

Former Clatsop County commissioner George Kiepke also filed in the Democratic primary, and two Republicans are vying for the House District 32 seat as well in their party’s primary — Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber, and Vineeta Lower, an educator from Seaside.

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Voting for both party’s primaries takes place Tuesday, May 19.   

How Boothe-Schmidt’s bid came together

Running for state office was not something Boothe-Schmidt, who also serves as chair of the Astoria-based Sunset Empire Transportation District (SETD) board of directors, planned to do, but when Mitchell announced less than four hours before the filing deadline that she would not seek reelection, Boothe-Schmidt decided to embark on her first attempt at running for public office.

When Mitchell came to the conclusion she wasn’t going to run for a second term — her husband accepted a job opportunity in Washington, which will move the family out of state and effectively end Mitchell’s short but dramatic career in Oregon politics — she again urged Boothe-Schmidt to run for the District 32 seat.   

Now, Boothe-Schmidt, 64, who grew up in eastern Oregon and graduated from Pendleton High School, is just beginning an election-season journey that will introduce her to District 32 constituents and let the public get to know her on a more personal level. 

“Tiffiny and I have known each other for a long time,” Boothe-Schmidt told the Banks Post. “Two years ago, she and other people tried to talk me into running for public office but the timing wasn’t good for me. I’ve been serving this community for over 20 years, so I couldn’t be more excited to take this next step to serve House District 32 as our next state representative.”

By contrast, just a couple of weeks ago Boothe-Schmidt, who said she’s never hawkishly followed politics, wasn’t really thinking about more than her daily work-and-family life routines. Running for state office wasn’t on her radar. 

“I really started paying attention to (state) politics when I became involved with the union (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2746),” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting out into the district, talking to voters about their priorities, and getting to work for the people of the north coast.”

Boothe-Schmidt eventually served as the AFSCME Local 2746 union president for six years. During her tenure, she represented about 300 Clatsop County workers, including those in the sheriff’s office, the roads department, community corrections, the district attorney’s office, and more, in successful contract negotiations with the county. 

“During my time with AFSCME, I stood up for local workers time after time to make sure that those who honorably serve our community are treated fairly and earn good wages and strong benefits for themselves and their families,” she said.   

As previously mentioned, Boothe-Schmidt serves as chair of the Sunset Empire Transportation District board, which provides public transportation that encompasses and includes nearly all of Clatsop County’s 840 square miles and more than 37,000 residents. There, she works with the board and Executive Director Jeff Hazen on SETD’s budget, policy decisions, and ongoing operations. 

She’s also worked in several Clatsop County departments for more than two decades. Currently, Boothe-Schmidt serves as a trial assistant in the county district attorney’s office and previously served as a staff assistant in community corrections. 

But it is her time as president of the AFSCME Local 2746 union that best prepared her to serve in public office, and for being successful once she gets elected, Boothe-Schmidt said. 

“I’ve grown a lot since I started out as (local union) president. I was a little more standoffish than I am now,” she said. “Being president, you have to go in and negotiate things, and that’s helped me build a type of confidence in myself I don’t think I had before. I’m more outspoken now. I still get nervous speaking in front of large groups but years ago I would never have done something like that.”

Boothe-Schmidt said she’s well aware of the difficulties Mitchell faced as District 32 representative, especially the recall efforts put together that were not based on a scandal of any kind but solely on Mitchell’s voting record — an unprecedented recall attempt. 

She said right now she’s only looking ahead to serving one term — she and her husband, Tom, who co-owns the Phog Bounders Antique Mall in Astoria, are nearing retirement age — but she would consider running for reelection “depending on how things go.”

“If I feel like I’m making a difference I’ll definitely run again,” she said. “If I think I can’t do the work that needs to be done then it would be time for someone new to come along. (But I’m no) lame duck. I’m going down there to do a job and I want to do it well.”

She also said she knows that some of District 32’s constituents won’t like her simply because she is a Democrat, but people shouldn’t stereotype others. 

“I understand people don’t trust politicians, but not all politicians are the same, either. Like any group, there’s going to be good ones and bad ones,” Boothe-Schmidt said. “I think you have to give someone a chance. You can’t just say, ‘They are a Democrat, so they have to be bad.’ I have friends that are Republicans and we get along fine. I have pretty thick skin and I’m willing to talk to anybody about anything. We won’t always agree on everything but it’s good to have a conversation to see where we’re all coming from. I want to have an open-door policy where people are able to talk to me at any time.”

Boothe-Schmidt said she wants to be as transparent as possible and wants her constituents to know that they can come to her office at any time and let her know how they feel about any issue at all. 

“I’m looking forward to getting out into the district, talking to voters about their priorities, and getting to work for the people of the north coast,” she said. 

Mitchell’s surprise decision

Mitchell’s decision not to run for a second term came as a surprise to many Oregon political observers. After all, just last December the freshman state representative overcame two efforts to have her recalled.

One, led by right-wing political group Timber Unity, which describes itself on Facebook as “a political watchdog group for rural Oregonians,” took issue with Mitchell’s policy record, particularly with her support of legislation that would create the first cap-and-trade system in the U.S. 

A second political action group simply called the Recall Tiffiny Mitchell PAC drew ire at Mitchell’s support for reforming the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), as well as the aforementioned cap-and-trade bill. 

Mitchell said her family’s decision to allow her husband to pursue a wonderful career opportunity in Washington will be a good move for them, but she is disappointed that the move disqualifies her from being able to continue on in her Oregon house role. 

Mitchell said she made the decision not to run for reelection at the last minute because part of her personality makeup includes always looking at every perspective possible before making any final decision. 

“I have enjoyed and been very honored to serve in this capacity during the past year-and-a-half,” she said. “It is important that I continue my commitment to (District 32 constituents), but I also wanted my husband to pursue this opportunity, which will be better for him and for our family. 

“Right up until (I decided against filing to run again), I went back and forth trying to evaluate every alternative possible that would let me stay in the district as a (house) representative — ideas like maintaining two separate households — but that wouldn’t be fair to our marriage, nor to the district’s constituents, for me to have one foot in Oregon and another in Washington.

“I’m going to be really interested to see where this primary goes,” Mitchell added. “I know (Boothe-Schmidt) and she’s going to be a great candidate.” 

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