Phil Chang for Deschutes County Commission
Candidate: Phil Chang
Office: Deschutes County Commission
Opponent: Phil Henderson (R)
Indivisible Bend and Indivisible Sisters
Oregon League of Conservation Voters
Central Oregon Labor Chapter
Young Democrats of Oregon Caucus
NARAL Pro-Choice PAC
US Senator Jeff Merkley
Q & A with Indivisible Bend
If you align with a particular political party, or abstain from choosing a political party, why do you make that choice?
I align more with the Democratic Party than with the Republican Party, but I do not sit 100% comfortably within the Democratic Party. I am very concerned about economic inequality in our nation and inequality of opportunity. I feel more Democrats are serious about working on equality than Republicans.
I believe that government can provide useful services to the people of a nation, state, county or city. Republicans seem increasingly bent on dismantling government and devaluing public servants and service.
I do worry that Democrats – particularly urban coastal Democrats – do not understand rural communities or the ecosystems they inhabit. This lack of understanding can lead to an attitude that rural areas are pristine wildernesses that need to be saved from evil farmers or ranchers or forestry contractors who want to wreck these places for short term profits – or that rural areas are populated by ignorant hateful bigots. I disagree with these biases and some of the policy positions that stem from them as well.
As a natural resources professional I believe we need to engage rural people as partners in stewarding our resources. I wish both of the parties were more serious about campaign finance reform and addressing one of the fundamental threats to our democracy.
If elected to represent Central Oregon, what are your top three priorities?
Helping Deschutes County grow well to improve housing affordability, reduce traffic congestion, catch up on infrastructure, and preserve open space and habitat.
Investing in public and mental health services to keep our community healthy and thriving.
(That’s two with a number of sub-priorities).
How can government affect equitable outcomes for marginalized communities? You can choose a particular issue like hiring practices, or legislation, or policy changes, etc.
I believe that if local governments provide services in a way that gives all people meaningful opportunity then people from marginalized communities will be successful. We need to provide real opportunities for education and support (nutrition, social services, etc) for all youth in our schools. We need to provide access to health care for everyone – and this is an area where the County government has a huge role to play.
We need to provide more deed-restricted affordable housing and transitional and temporary housing – and this is an area where all local governments have a role to play.
We need to provide additional opportunities for mobility through public transit so that people can get to work and education and health care and other needs. These are all areas where government can level the playing field in terms of opportunity so that people who start with greater challenges in life have a chance to succeed.
Hindsight is 20/20, what’s important is that we learn from our experiences. What lessons have you learned from the government’s COVID-19 response?
I believe that the County could have helped to contain COVID much better than it did. The County is the local health authority for our community and most of the public health capacity for the community lies within the County Health Services department. But for the first three to four months of the pandemic the County Commission did not take the virus seriously. They rushed to re-open without thinking about what we needed to do to effectively contain the virus and thus made our re-opening unsafe and tenuous.
They told protesters that they were not sure how seriously they should take COVID and didn’t model personal responsibility measures like mask wearing. They drafted a local religious gathering order that would have violated the Governor’s Phase 1 group size restriction. They joined other eastern Oregon Commissioners in conspiring to rebel against the Governor.
If the Commissioners had put more energy into emphasizing that everyone needed to adopt personal responsibility measures – masks, distance, hand sanitation, monitoring yourself for symptoms – then perhaps we would not have had such a large surge in cases in July. This local failure mirrored the national failure to take COVID seriously and take adequate measures to contain it.
What do you think should be done in response to the recent event with ICE and Customs & Border Patrol creating terror amongst our immigrant community?
I am not sure whether actions by local governments can have a big impact on this issue. I think we need to change federal immigration law and in order to do that we will need to change attitudes about immigrants among enough of the population that federal elected officials change policy. We need comprehensive immigration reforms such as the bill passed by the Senate in 2013, which the House never took up.
ICE agents will not stop trying to enforce federal laws in our community if we pass local policies. And we cannot order local police to fight with federal agents to protect local people. But I do think that peaceful protest – such as the efforts to block the ICE buses - sends a national message about community support for immigrants and hopefully makes the federal government think twice about trying to raid our community to seize undocumented people in the future. The cost to ICE for seizing those two residents was very high.
As an individual citizen I am also planning to write something like a guest column for Welcoming Week next week discussing the United States that welcomed my immigrant parents in the 1950s and the very different U.S. that we are currently living in.
As of today, which individuals or groups are your three biggest donors?
Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) $2000
Adam Albright $2000
Lou Capozzi $1500
Roger Worthington $1500
But my sister Primi Chang will be making a contribution of $3000 soon
My opponent has received much larger checks from the realtors PAC, the builders PAC, Greg Walden, and other special interests.
I am trying to match his large checks from a very small number of donors with many small contributions from a very large number of supporters. We are very close to having 300 individual donors from within Deschutes County. Meanwhile, Phil Henderson has less than 30.
What brought you to Central Oregon? What do you like best about this place we call home?
I was drawn to Central Oregon by the wonderful landscape (forests, deserts, mountains, river) but also the urban amenities that it had to offer (a college, great library, restaurants, music). It felt like the kind of place where I wanted to raise kids, which I have done for the past 12.75 years.
It was also the right kind of place for me to come work professionally as a natural resource manager. This is a community of pragmatic problem solvers who have often been able to bridge ideological divides and overcome huge challenges. National polarization is straining that community feel. But I believe it is still there and it is one of the best things about this place we call home.