Shannon Souza has made a name for herself on the Southwestern Oregon Coast, where she runs a solar energy and environmental consulting business, helped found a public charter school and advocates for state investments in rural infrastructure.
The Coos Bay Democrat is challenging Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, for state Senate District 1, which covers Roseburg, most of South Douglas County, Curry County and parts of Coos, Josephine and Jackson counties.
It’s a sprawling, rural district with poverty rates ranging from 18 to 48 percent. While Republicans have traditionally pushed restoring timber jobs as a solution to the district’s troubles, Souza has a different vision.
At 33, Dallas Heard is the youngest member of the Oregon Senate by about a decade. He got his start in politics four years ago, at 29, when he…
She said the core problem isn’t a lack of jobs, but the lack of a skilled workforce to fill those jobs. To tackle that problem, she would invest in early childhood education and ensure that what students are learning in school are the skills necessary to step into living wage jobs when they graduate. She also wants to ensure students who need it receive mental health care so they are able to focus on their studies.
Every dollar spent on early childhood education brings back a significant return on investment, she said.
“When we invest a dollar in Head Start, that’s good economics,” she said.
Souza also wants to invest in making rural Oregon communities places that can attract skilled workers from other areas, and that means creating communities that offer educational excellence, clean drinking water and beautiful ecosystems.
Doing all those things are good for businesses as well as individuals, and it’s important that corporations invest in both infrastructure and education, she said.
“We cannot continue to attract corporations through huge deferment of taxes and some of the lowest corporate tax structures in the entire nation and expect that our population that those very corporations rely on will be able to meet their needs. They will pull up stakes and leave as soon as we cannot meet their needs — if we cannot educate our children,” she said.
Souza believes Southwestern Oregon can capitalize on the inevitable changes to a carbon economy, as the state and the nation begin grappling with the impact of climate change.
The entire Oregon Coast doesn’t have a single electrical generation facility on it, but it should, she said. Rural Southwestern Oregon has access to wind, sun and hydropower energy, she said. As a rural legislator from the majority Democratic party, she said she’d be able to secure investment in renewable energy in rural Oregon.
She’d also like to transform the area into a hub for renewable energy technology development.
“As Americans we are innovators. We innovate; everyone else replicates. So that’s awesome. We also specifically in Oregon are living out on the frontier, where we have this survivalist get-her-done mentality. So we’re really well poised to take entering into the carbon market and innovate the heck out of it. We know how to manufacture. We know how to design. We can be one of the think tanks and hotbeds for technology in responding to a global climate crisis,” she said.
Souza doesn’t see party politics as the key issue in the Senate race. She said she wants to approach people without party-line idealism. Businesses want a happier, healthier, more employable population from which to hire their workforce. Individuals want to be happier, healthier and trained for good family-wage jobs.
“We’re all pulling in the same direction. If you have an industrious candidate who’s proposing to work hard, do the homework, maintain the open door, and blow away partisanship with effective collaborations, people listen,” she said.
Souza said what compels her forward in the campaign is a desire to respond to a need she sees resonating throughout the district. Her goal is to find “real, viable solutions and visions and plans for improvements for the common good,” she said.
“I’m a collaborative visionary interested in your success,” she said.