The sponsors of the Thrilla in Montavilla asked the candidates to provide opening and closing statements, to respond to a questionnaire, and to answer questions from the audience. These are the opening and closing statements that I prepared for the event. I will post my responses to the questionnaire in the next post.
Opening Statement by Sean Cruz
May 2, 2008
Are there any veterans in the house? Please don’t leave here without talking to me.
I am thrilled to stand here before you among so many friends, and for the very first time in this race a debate of any type, and for the first time any Q & A with any people of color in the room.
With only 18 days left before the ballots are due, on the same day that my own ballot arrived in the mail, I have an opportunity to speak in public, to partipate in a debate.
I am running to succeed Avel Gordly, to work at the Gordly desk (She calls it the People’s desk) in the Senate Chamber and to continue her work for Oregon’s underserved populations, for our most vulnerable Oregonians from the seat she is vacating on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
I am also calling for the appointment of a new Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to work jointly with the House Committee, which is overburdened with work, and I intend to serve there.
The war in Iraq has cost me both of my sons, in ways that do not show up in the body count, and I look forward to an opportunity to discuss the impact of the wars on Oregonians before ballots are due in only 18 days.
I am a Mexican-American, the son and grandson of Mexican farmworkers, a Chicano (as was Cesar Chavez) who left northern California twenty years ago to settle in the northwest. I have lived in Portland since 1996 and in Parkrose for the past six years, in the house that was home to the family of the late, great Native American jazz saxophone player and composer Jim Pepper, Hunga-Che-Eda, the Flying Eagle.
I am the father of four beautiful children, two girls and two boys.
I was my elderly and medically fragile mother’s sole caregiver at the time my children disappeared during the Great Flood of February 1996 in an abduction planned and carried out by Mormon church leaders in three states. The perpetrators were never investigated or prosecuted, although they committed multiple felonies in the course of the kidnapping, and some still remain in the Portland Metro.
My mother passed away four years after the kidnapping without seeing or hearing from her grandchildren again.
The experience plunged me into clinical depression and homelessness. I lived at the Victory Outreach Church Men’s Re-entry Home for five years, but while I was there I became a volunteer member of the Portland Police Crisis Response Team, served on the KBOO 90.7FM Board of Directors, was appointed by the U.S. Attorney to the Albina Weed & Seed Steering Committee, and became a founding Board Member of the National Organization of Weed and Seed, U.S. Department of Justice.
In 2002, Senator Gordly invited me to serve as her Legislative Aide and Chief of Staff, and I have been preparing for this day ever since.
For decades, 18 legislative sessions, 36 years, members of the Portland NAACP came to the Capitol fighting to get in the door, year after year, to open that door to future generations, to everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity or the color of their skin.
They came to a Capitol that scorned them, even on the floors of both chambers, to a Salem that would not rent them a room or allow them to eat in a restaurant. They were not successful until 1953, not that long ago.
Oregon’s farm workers won the right to a meal and rest break during the workday only four years ago, the result of Avel Gordly’s heart, vision and courage.
My grandmother gave birth in some farmer’s field in California in the 1930’s during the Great Depression, wrapped the baby in a blanket and went back to work. People working in those fields are fighting to survive.
Staffing Senator Gordly through that human rights battle was one of the proudest events of my life.
There is a photograph that commemorates the passage of Oregon’s Civil Rights law that hangs outside of the House chamber, because Avel Gordly put it there.
The only other image of an African American in public areas of the Capitol is of York, a slave in the 19th century, and Oregon’s current three African American state senators, all approaching the end of their legislative careers.
In the intervening years, Oregon’s racial and ethnic minorities stood outside of the process, invisible, even in the data the legislature relied on to make decisions.
It was Avel Gordly who stood in the gap, who demanded a different perspective, who demanded disaggregated data from the agencies, so we could drill down and find the people at the bottom.
It was less than twelve years ago that Avel Gordly broke the color line in the Oregon Senate, becoming the first African American woman to serve in the Oregon Senate, the single legislator to rise above partisanship throughout her career, the champion of the People, of the people at the bottom, of the underserved, of Oregon’s racial and ethnic minorities, she became by acclamation the “Conscience of the Senate.”
Now she is moving to another arena to continue her public service.
But the work is not done. The People are hurting. Senator Gordly has laid the foundation, but there is more work to do.
Senate Bill 111—Deadly force policy, under way, must be monitored
Senate Bill 300—Expanded Options, champions underserved students, but their champion is leaving the Senate
Senate Bill 420—Environmental Justice Task Force has not begun its work
Senate Bill 1041—Aaron’s Law, 200,000 cases a year of child abductions by family members
Senate Bill 1075--Creates Task Force to develop a plan for a comprehensive, integrated system of mental health and addiction services for seniors, persons with diabilities and persons in underserved racial or ethnic communities( Senator Gordly's last bill, did not pass, but their champion is leaving the Senate)
Once more, Oregon’s racial and ethnic minorities will stand outside of the process, outside of the door, waiting in lines defined by white privilege, asking for help from really busy people.
Or you will send me to serve you in the Oregon Senate.
It’s not about me, it’s about you.
May 2, 2008