Two Democratic lawmakers who are giving up their seats serving in Salem because of the long hours and low pay are forming a political action committee to help elect a more diverse pool of working women to the state Legislature.
“I don’t believe that the people of Oregon want to only be represented by wealthy people with trust funds and hedge funds,” Rep. Rachel Prusak, a Democrat who represented West Linn, said in an email announcing the new PAC.
Prusak, a nurse practitioner, and Reps. Anna Williams, a social worker, announced earlier this year they would not seek re-election citing the Oregon Legislature’s low pay. They are now spearheading the political action committee.
Working in the state Legislature is technically a part-time job, and the base salary is about $33,000. Lawmakers meet every February, with sessions that cannot exceed 160 days in odd-numbered years and 35 days in even-numbered years. But special legislative sessions are becoming increasingly more regular, with lawmakers called back to Salem to tackle unfinished business at unexpected times. Lawmakers also must deal with what members describe as never-ending requests for help from constituents, people desperate for help who expect unlimited access to lawmakers. And as the state grows, the budget and policy demands have also grown.
Despite gains in recent years with the Legislature getting younger and more diverse, the state is still predominantly represented by people who are older, retired or no longer have kids at home.
Lawmakers considered a proposal in their 2022 legislative session to increase their salaries to about $63,500 per year, but the measure failed.
Now Prusak and Williams have formed the political action committee — called 9to5 — with plans to support more working women for office. A large number of lawmakers are giving up their seats this election cycle. A variety of factors are at play, but the exhaustion of the pandemic combined with long hours and low pay are big factors. Many lawmakers fear the turnover will result in an even less diverse state Legislature.
Part of the problem, the PAC’s founders said, is Democrats have worked to get more diverse candidates into office but haven’t taken additional steps of supporting them once they are serving. Both Prusak and Williams flipped districts from red to blue when they were elected.
“We’re not going anywhere until working people can serve in Legislatures across the country without driving themselves to over-exhaustion, debt, or both,” Williams said in an email.
The name of the political action committee is indeed inspired by Dolly Parton’s song, 9 to 5.
The PAC is endorsing five working women candidates, all of whom represent suburban districts, and all of whom have experience serving on school boards, city councils or in the state House. In recent legislative sessions, it’s been evident how the younger, more diverse lawmakers’ experiences have informed policy decisions. The hope is electing more working women will also eventually make it more likely pay and hours will change at the Legislature.
Several new PACs have been formed recently in Oregon in the lead-up to the election. Six Democratic former lawmakers are hoping to elect more moderates to the state Legislature. The organizers of “Oregonians are Ready” say they worry centrist and rural voices have become ignored in the Democratic Party recently.
In the governor’s race, a new Democrat-backed political action committee is getting ready to go up against former state Sen. Betsy Johnson. Johnson, a former Democrat, is running for governor as a non-affiliated candidate. The PAC, Oregonians for Ethics, will highlight what its organizers say are Johnson’s more conservative votes.
And in an even more unusual move, the national House Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats and is tied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, recently got involved in the highly competitive Democratic primary for the 6th Congressional District. The PAC purchased roughly $1 million of ads to help political newcomer Carrick Flynn.