Three leading Democratic legislators in Oregon decide against another term

Reps. Rachel Prusak of Tualatin, Karin Power of Milwaukie and Anna Williams of Hood River said they can’t make their lives work with a part time job that pays $33,000

By: - March 2, 2022 6:17 pm

Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie (facing camera) talks to Rep. Lisa Reynolds, D-Portland, on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

They say they no longer can juggle the demands of public office, careers and raising children.

They are legislators with power and influence. They each chair a committee.

And at the end of this year, Democratic Reps. Karin Power of Milwaukie, Rachel Prusak of Tualatin and Anna Williams of Hood River will end their service.

In a joint statement, they announced “with deep sadness and profound love for our state and communities” that they have decided not to run again.

Democratic leaders said they’ll be missed.

“Representatives Power, Prusak and Williams will each leave a significant legacy as members of the Oregon House,” said Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis. “They have brought our state forward on climate, child care, health care, human services and a number of other important topics. I will greatly miss working with them and know they will continue to accomplish great things outside the Legislature.”

Prusak leads the Health Care Committee, Power chairs the Child Care Committee and Williams leads the Human Services Committee. 

Rep. Anna Williams
Rep. Anna Williams, D-Hood River (Rep. Anna Williams’ office)

They also have families: Power has two children 18 months and 5 years old, and Williams’ children are 11 and 14 years old.

And they have other careers. Prusak is a nurse practitioner who primarily treats hospice patients, Williams is an adjunct professor and academic adviser, and Power, a lawyer, is administrative director of an association that helps businesses achieve their socio-economic and environmental goals.

“Collectively we have run seven campaigns and served our communities for 14 years,” they said in their statement. “We’ve met with thousands of Oregonians, and it has been an honor to hear your stories, your struggles and successes.”

They recounted the issues that drew their energy – equitable access to health care, gun violence, environmental justice, affordable and accessible child care and bridging the rural-urban divide.

They said the legislator pay – less than $33,000 a year – was not enough for a job that is no longer part time with an increasing number of legislative obligations during the year, including committee work and special sessions.

Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Tualatin

Legislators have been considering a proposal to increase legislator pay starting next year, pushing it to about $60,000, but it has not passed out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

The legislature meets in even years for five weeks, as it is doing now, and in odd years, sessions last more than five months. 

But increasingly they’re summoned back to Salem at other times, usually to adjust state budgets. Last year, for example, after the long session they met in September on redistricting, and in December, they approved $100 million for rental assistance.

“Balancing our work, multiple day jobs, families and our service has become unsustainable,” they wrote. “How much of a check on power can we be if we earn a base salary of less than $33,000 a year? How can we adequately oversee a state budget of more than $25 billion, with dozens of different state agencies? Investing in people is a smart long-term decision and one this government has been reluctant to make. Because of this, what should be a citizen legislature has historically been picked from a small pool of wealthy or retired applicants.”

One of their colleagues, Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, quit his job in August 2020 as a part-time union representative for the Oregon Nurses Association because having two jobs became too demanding. 

It’s not been a very part-time Legislature during the pandemic,” Nosse said. 

He said departure of the three leaders will be a big loss for the Legislature.

“It’s sad actually,” Nosse said. “These women are good legislators, and they can’t afford to do it.”

Prusak, elected in 2018, was appointed chair of the House Health Care Committee in December 2020. Nosse said she has become “a really good health care chair,” shepherding through the committee this session a complicated bill on Medicaid, House Bill 4035. It would create a new health care plan for low-income people who lose their Medicaid coverage. 

She also was behind a proposal to address Oregon’s nursing shortage.

Power, elected in 2016, has been a champion of child care, pushing for increased investments. 

“It’s something I’ve been working on for several years,” Power said.

As an expert in social work elected to the House in 2018, Williams has a wealth of knowledge about how the state Department of Human Services works, Nosse said. This session she is proud of getting House Bill 4013 passed. The bill, which is headed to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk, will provide assistance to hundreds of homeless youth. 

Williams said she plans to continue policy work outside the Legislature in addition to her academic jobs.

“I plan on continuing in those positions, but I’m also hoping to find a new position that will allow me to keep working on developing and/or administering Oregon state human services policy,” Williams said in an email.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.