Senator Jackie Winters was elected to represent Oregon House District 31 in the Oregon House of Representatives in 1998 and reelected in 2000. She won election to the Oregon Senate in 2002 and has been reelected to that position in subsequent elections.
On February 17, 2012, Will Crook, Gabriela Cervantes, Nancy Doll and Susan Mancke, students at Western Oregon University studying Gender Issues in History, experienced the pleasure of interviewing Senator Winters in her office at the Oregon State Capitol building in Salem. The following expresses the heart of this interview in recognition of the celebration of the centennial of woman suffrage in Oregon.
Oregon State Senator Jackie Winters (R), District 10, began her governmental service in 1959 at the University of Oregon Medical School in the medical records unit and later joined the staff of the Portland Model Cities Program. In 1969, she was recruited to be supervisor of the State Office of Economic Opportunity’s New Resources Program at the request of Governor Tom McCall. In 1979 she was appointed Ombudsman by Governor Victor Atiyeh. During this service, she helped create the Oregon Food Share Program, which has grown in 2012 to include a statewide system of food banks serving most of Oregon’s neediest families. She was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1998 as the Representative of District 31. She was re-elected to this office in 2000. In 2002, 2006 and again in 2010, she was elected as State Senator for District 10. She and her family have lived in Salem for the past 41 years.
Senator Winters believes that women have an important role to play in government, particularly in influencing policies that impact women and families. Women have a different thought process and will consider the broader impact of such items as healthcare issues, childcare needs, children’s growth and development and the overall well being of the family. She believes we have come a long way historically from what women were allowed to do in the political realm in 1900s, to what they are now called upon to do. She admonishes us that it is of the utmost importance that we remember how we got where we are. “If you don’t know where you were, you don’t know where you are going.”
Q: Please share your views on the importance of a woman’s vote.
Response: “Women bring a different view to discussion and debate.” Senator Winters indicated that women will focus on issues such as children, family and health as they nurture the human desire for a participatory democracy. She believes that women are an important element that exists within the civil rights and law movement, and how laws impact families.”
Q: What has been important in the past and how does that compare to the present?
Response: “In the past, women struggled in areas of banking and finance. Historically, women couldn’t even get a small business loan or their husband would have to sign consent for certain gynecological procedures. With women’s involvement in politics change has been accomplished. But in 2012 it’s often something that gets taken for granted.”
Q: What and who inspired you to run for office?
Response: Senator Winters replied: “My father. He was not a politician or politically involved.” The Senator talked about how discussions at the dinner table with her father were of current events, candidates for various elected offices, and what they stood for. There was also a personal connection with Charlie Curtis, a relative of her father, who served as vice president for Herbert Hoover, which led to a lot of political discussion and debates.
Senator Winters was inspired politically in 1967 while working in the records department at the University of Oregon Medical School. Winters attended a Model Cities community meeting where she voiced her opinions on how to improve her community. A pastor then asked her to become involved with community issues and Portland’s Model Cities project.
The point where she really began believing that her involvement could create real change was when her neighborhood association requested the local store owner to close at 11:00 p.m. to reduce high traffic late at night, for the sake of their children. The store was famous for having the coldest beer in town. When the store owner refused their request because the customers who drove across town paid far more in taxes than those in the neighborhood, they took the issue to the city council, whose members required the store to close at 10:00 p.m. From this point on Senator Winter’s motivation was to provide real change for people.
Q: What are the challenges and rewards for women who participate in politics through campaigns and office holding?
Response: Senator Winters believes that one thing that must be understood with political involvement is that it is a commitment for the long haul. You need to have family support and be emotionally prepared. “It is certainly not a business for the thin skinned,” she notes. “If you are concerned about winning, it’s not for you.” She also indicated that there is a set of skills required much like owning a restaurant, you need to be more than a good cook; you need to be able to balance a budget, manage people and be a people person. She compared the restaurant owner to the politician, which is reflective of her own life and said, “the same is true about politics, you need the right set of skills, understanding the issues, and know how to communicate, getting to know pieces and elements in the political arena, and you must be a people person.” She also stated that the rewards are great. She said “The rewards are thinking about what you’re doing to make things better for others, thinking about the masses.”
Then Senator Winters addressed some challenges by affirming that the real challenges are the sacrifice to the family, the financial commitment, both from raising funds and amount of money made as a senator. She said, “financial compensation does not attract young competitors with the newest and fresh ideas.”
Q: What have you done and what can Oregonians do to promote civic participation.
Response: “Education, at all levels, Elementary, High School and University. Our students know very little about our government. It is sad that other countries are more educated about our government. Not knowing about the distinction or essence of how the government works, people don’t know what role to play with in government.”
Q: Do you sense that people feel a separation with government and don’t realize that they are the government?
Response: “Absolutely but in addition, government has become so complicated that it’s very difficult to know where to begin with a problem or an issue. A large part of this problem comes with communication overload. TV editorial sound-bites rather than a person’s opinion, eliminates clarity. Moreover, most individuals do not seem to know the separation of power; the difference between states’ rights and national powers, the role of the nation verses the role of the state.”
Senator Winters closed with this statement: “Women have a very important role to play in politics and in change. And that’s what I see myself doing here at the Capitol. I look at what’s going on and where I can make things better. Women bring up things that the outside world wouldn’t think about. An example of that is providing screening for cervical cancer and breast exams. If women weren’t in politics men wouldn’t think of those issues because it doesn’t affect them. But I do think that both men and women need to be a part of the political process when it comes to families. Women have a very important role to play.”
Senator Jackie Winters is a warm and receptive person who has a great passion for the people she serves in the Oregon State Senate. She clearly conveyed to us a message that government is a participatory activity for all citizens that works best when both men and women are represented in the governmental process. We enjoyed the time we had available to speak with her and to share in her gallery, pictures of people, places and activities she has known and been a part of.