SD-14 Candidate highlight – Dick Schouten
Looking to relocate his progressive leadership into the Oregon Senate
By Adam Gretzinger, House District Leader HD-27
“All about Partnerships” has been the theme of Dick Schouten’s 20-year, 5-term service on the Washington County Board of Commissioners. “Working in partnership has been a hallmark of how we work and get things done in Washington County.” Senate District 14 is overwhelmingly located within Washington County, and two important special districts serving the area, namely the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation and Beaverton School Districts. The district covers Raleigh Hills, Garden Home, the southern half of Beaverton, Aloha and two precincts in SW Portland/Multnomah County.
Dick believes “This district deserves to be represented by someone who lives in Washington County, and within the Beaverton School and Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation Districts. The District ought to be represented by someone who has a long and deep understanding of, and association with its residents. For over 20 years I have canvassed, held constituent meetings, open houses and attended local business association breakfasts and lunches in and for the people and businesses of this Senate District. Over 70% of my County Commissioner District overlaps with State Senate District 14.” If elected, he’ll be replacing three-term Democratic State Senator Mark Hass who is now running for Secretary of State and vacating the seat.
One of the biggest surprises about Dick in our phone interview was that he is an immigrant from the Netherlands who moved with his parents in the late 1950s to Fresno, California, where his father initially worked on a peach ranch. English isn’t actually his first language, it’s Dutch. As a young child he also picked up some Spanish and grew up with English as a 2nd language. His father had a horticulture degree from the Netherlands but worked in Fresno for over 30 years as a janitor, and moonlighting as a gardener.
“I grew up in a blue collar environment with hard-working, loving parents.” Dick was able to take advantage of California’s then-strong public support for higher education. He received state scholarships to Santa Clara University, where he earned a B.S. in Political Science, and attended the University of California, Los Angeles Law School where he graduated with relatively little debt. Dick realized an extraordinary feat by becoming a first generation graduate educated immigrant who didn’t speak English at home.
Prior to the 1960s America’s immigration system had very limited and used racist entry quotas. Dick’s family experienced immigrant life prior to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart–Celler Act) which mitigated some of that past racism. Dick credits Senator Ted Kennedy for this great policy victory and as an immigrant himself has warm regards for the Democratic party from his early years.
While in law school Dick worked a 6 month legal internship in West Virginia helping hospital patients deal with mental health and legal issues. While in West Virginia he personally observed extreme poverty created by outside interests controlling everything in coal country and observing life in company towns which had a colonial feel.
Dick initially went into private law practice as a personal injury lawyer, also working on business and contract law. A little later he was an Assistant City Attorney in Redwood City, CA and Redding, CA. This was his first touch of public service life that would fill the rest of his career right up until today. He enjoyed serving the public and the public interest in his law practice. He specialized in construction, political jurisdictional issues, land use and zoning law.
In 1992, Dick’s late wife (and beloved WashCo Dem) Karen Schouten got a job offer opportunity with Intel in Hillsboro. They moved their family, and Dick practiced law on a contracted overflow basis, and became active in west Beaverton politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the County Board of Commissioners in 1996. Undeterred he ran again to fill a vacancy in May 2000 and won to start in his 20 year career as our County Commissioner for Beaverton, Aloha and Cooper Mountain.
When asked about his 20 year term on the County Board an obvious question came to mind: Do you support term limits? Dick is skeptical – “term limits might just be handing more control to lobbyists who have no term limits, who can approach a new crop of lawmakers every election cycle with large contributions and a much deeper understanding of how ‘our’ State Legislature works.” Dick is however sensitive that electeds should work for the people and not get stale. “I decided to leave the Board of Commissioners about a year ago, because I don’t want to get stale there.”
He’s hoping to serve as senator for a discrete time period and would look forward to a woman and/or person of color who is a Washington County resident succeeding him. He is wary of the role monied people play in politics, and wants to end our state’s system of no contribution limits. He supports the November 2020 initiative to make that possible. He’d like to increase the Oregon political tax credit and index it to inflation. “Very much like jury duty and voting, the political tax credit should be used to encourage every Oregonian to pick a few candidates to support each year to dilute and make lobbyists’ money less relevant.”
During much of Dick’s time on the Commission he has served under Republican majorities, until recently Dick has had to work across the aisle and maintain good relationships with Republican County Chairs. The County Board still made great progress helping the residents of Washington County and that is when Dick became known as the board’s “Troubleshooter” and where he put his motto “All about partnerships” into practice.
The County Board put Dick in charge of how to make best use of the County’s very limited parks and greenspace acquisition funds. He used partnerships and collaboration with other public agencies, philanthropy, neighbor and nonprofits to leverage a little over $1.2 million of County greenspaces and park grant funds to well over $20M in land value and park improvements. Working with numerous funding partners he obtained 20 acres of green space on Bull Mountain near Tigard, a place that had no parks until its creation. A $5M in total value was delivered on Mt Williams, a 30 acre wooded, hilltop property in west Beaverton that also closed a missing regional trail link. Working with the Tualatin Hills Park Foundation Dick helped leverage $400,000 of County’s park grant funds into a $1.5 million dollar sports field for disabled recreationalists at Mountain View Champions Park in Aloha. Rounding out the capital stretch from the County seed money he helped make Craig Dirksen Nature Park in Tigard happen, with an initial $400,000 County grant to start the fundraising.
Many folks know Dick is an avid bicyclist – riding extensively to public meetings around the county. He learned to bicycle early on in life because his family didn’t have money for a second car and bicycling was the best available alternative. In college he couldn’t afford to live close to UCLA and bicycled long distances to get there. To this day, Dick still rides extensively and advocates for multi-modal transportation for people of all incomes. The above-noted green space acquisition projects helped lay in place a vital west-side trail property to add more off-road connectivity in the Beaverton area. Today it’s possible to travel some good distances in Washington County without using a car thanks to Dick’s work. While today Dick has an electric car, he uses public transit and his bicycle for his health, enjoyment and to save money.
The Beaverton YMCA Childcare Center Project is a $10M capital campaign of private philanthropy and public partnership that will provide high quality child care for low income residents living in eastern Washington County. The County at Dick’s recommendation did its part by contributing $200,000 to the childcare campaign, to go with the $5 million state dollars secured by Dick’s wife Democratic State Representative Sheri Schouten. This partnership will offer sorely needed childcare and unlock workforce productivity. The capital campaign is now half way done and looking for more help. Please contact the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette if you want to make a contribution!
Dick serves on Washington County’s Homeless Policy Advisory Committee, which is implementing a ten-year County plan to end homelessness. He’s pushed hard for the County to use surplus land (obtained from road projects) for affordable housing. Three such projects include: new duplexes near SW Bany and 170th for homeless, mental health patients; 120 units near the Willow Creek MAX Station; and finally, a yet undeveloped 45 unit apartment complex at NW Murray and Cornell Road for low income housing, which is currently seeking funding partnerships with donated land in hand from the county.
In the state senate Dick is eager to encourage the construction of accessory dwelling units, duplexes, and triplexes to increase middle income housing. By adjusting land use and zoning laws it’s possible to increase the housing supply without overburdening existing neighborhoods. Housing of different sizes and shapes can accommodate the range of affordability and ease the housing crisis. Dick also supports the new Metro levy (on the May 2020 ballot) for “wrap around” affordable housing and support services, including substance abuse treatment, childcare and job counseling. The levy would compliment the 2018 Metro housing bond, which was for capital construction and land acquisition.
Currently Dick serves as the president of the 5 Oaks Museum, formerly the Washington County Museum. He’s working with young executive directors and professionals, and building new museum leadership – curating exhibits more sensitive to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). DEI is very important to Dick as an immigrant himself. Dick served seven years on the board of Centro Cultural – working for hispanic empowerment in Washington County. And Dick is proud of the County’s own recent DEI efforts when the County Board recently funded a Diversity Equity and Inclusion office to be staffed with five full time employees. The office will be (among other things) promoting and facilitating equity and anti-discrimination in all county operations, including construction contracting and employee hiring. Dick wants to take that DEI mission further in the State Senate by addressing discriminatory pay disparity with more enforcement. By staffing up the Oregon Attorney General and the Labor Commissioner’s offices we can effectively deter discriminatory pay.
A strong tuition-free 4-year college degree program is also a cornerstone of the education element of Dick’s campaign platform. He wants to make it possible for everyone to get a K-16 education debt free in Oregon. This will require partnerships between school districts, community college districts, the Oregon University system, and others. While such a policy will require additional revenues the societal costs of not doing that will greatly exceed the program’s costs. Dick is also interested in creating more alternate career paths using labor unions and technical/industry training in the trades. Funding for the above programs can be found using a more progressive state income tax, kicker return caps for high income Oregonians, elimination of tax deductions for second and third homes, and indexing these tax reforms to keep up with inflation. Dick is a strong supporter of the Student Success Act that passed in the last long legislative session.
Washington County Commission also serves as the Board of Directors for Clean Water Services (CWS), Washington County’s sewer and stormwater utility. CWS greatly leveraged its own funds with federal dollars to secure riparian easements and contracts to improve water quality throughout the Tualatin River basin. CWS set a goal to plant 1 million trees in five years. CWS greatly exceeded that goal, planting 1 million trees in year three alone. The massive plantings have helped address issues with water quality by creating well vegetated, buffer zones for rivers, lowering water temperatures and providing additional wildlife habitat. The CWS could not have done all of this good work alone. Dick is eager to bring this expertise to the rest of the state as a model for protecting Oregon’s water resources.
The need to transform our economy by passing cap and trade legislation and phasing out fossil fuels in the next several decades are among his other principal environmental goals. Eager to use a science and expert driven approach to save our planet, Dick would make a powerful advocate for the environment and progressive values in the State Senate. A strong opposition to the Jordan Cove pipeline and the desire to permanently ban offshore drilling and fracking round out his campaign’s environmental policies.
Prevailing wages are usually required for government contracting like road projects. But they are not often required for projects indirectly funded by the government in the form of tax subsidies. Projects built in economic opportunity zones for example are partially funded by tax breaks but not subject to prevailing wage requirements. By requiring prevailing wages for projects funded (partially or fully) with tax breaks Dick believes more workers will be able to earn family wages in Oregon. “Oregon’s minimum wage needs to be indexed to inflation” he says. Dick is supportive of the current urban /rural localized differences in Oregon’s minimum wage. This enables high cost metro area workers to earn higher wages, while not harming rural businesses which cannot afford those higher wages.
Finally on benefits, Dick supports a uniform maximum time that employers in Oregon can exclude newly hired workers from employee benefits such as healthcare, dental, vision and retirement packages. Such uniformity would help address lack of affordable insurance coverage due to job changes, and level the playing field between employers. Dick also wants to address independent contractor loopholes some employers are abusing to avoid costs, and that are as well creating job insecurity for a significant segment of Oregon’s workforce.
Dick is a long-time Washington County resident with a long, proven track record on the County Board of Commissioners. He is eager to represent us in the State Senate and asks for your vote. Connect with his campaign website at: www.dickschouten.com.
Endorsement Note: prior to the May 2020 Democratic party primary the Washington County Democratic Party does not endorse candidates in partisan elections. This article is provided for informational purposes and should not be read as an endorsement. Other candidates in this race have been contacted for similar coverage.