In congressional election race, McLeod-Skinner prioritizes youth, acts as LGBTQ+ inspiration

Photo of McLeod-Skinner
Courtesy of McLeod-Skinner

Jamie McLeod-Skinner attended Lewis & Clark for a year in the ’90s; now she is running for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District.

After the 2020 Census, the district that LC resides in changed from District 3 to District 5, which also includes Bend, Oregon’s central coast and areas further inland. Most of Portland is still located in District 3 which has been represented by Earl Blumenauer BA ’70, JD ’76 since 1996. 

McLeod-Skinner hopes to appeal to this newly-mixed district with her rural background and the fact that if elected, she would be Oregon’s first LGBTQ+ congress member. She is running against Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer after beating out incumbent Democrat Kurt Schrader in the May Primary Elections.

However, this is not McLeod-Skinner’s first campaign. She gained press coverage in 2018 for traveling 35,000 miles through District 2’s rural areas, talking to some of the state’s most conservative voters. For McLeod-Skinner, this trip exemplified many common goals for voters, despite the perception of rural/urban or partisan divisions.

“As I like to say, regardless of party affiliation, we all want to be able to have a roof overhead and food on our table,” Mcleod-Skinner said. “We want opportunities for our kids – I’m a proud stepmom. We want health care for families that are sick, we want our communities to be safe. We don’t want our homes to burn down. We don’t want our family farms going under.”

When she first started out, there were times that she was nervous about running as an out woman. However, the experiences McLeod-Skinner has had since only solidify the reasons why she chose to campaign.

“What I used to say four years ago, even in the most conservative parts of the state, my opening spiel would be, ‘I finished high school in Southern Oregon, I live in Central Oregon and my wife’s family has been ranching in Eastern Oregon for over 100 years.’” McLeod Skinner said. “ … There would be some places that I thought I literally did not feel safe saying that, but I thought somebody needs to hear it.”

McLeod-Skinner recalled a woman who thanked her for running as openly LGBTQ+ because the woman’s daughter felt comfortable coming out as a lesbian after seeing her mother support McLeod-Skinner. Additionally, a conservative man was talking policy with McLeod-Skinner before asking her what he should do after his son had come out as gay. 

Besides unifying rural and urban Oregon, as well as running as an openly LGBTQ+ candidate, one of McLeod-Skinner’s focuses is young voters. In fact, one of her campaign staff members is a current student at Oregon State University. Additionally, Marissa Sandgren ’17 also currently works on her staff, and Erin Keoppen ’17 worked on her 2018 campaign.

Placing an emphasis on recent college graduates and current students is important for McLeod-Skinner because she said it is primarily young people’s futures who are at stake.

“Some of the things that were available to me when I attended Lewis & Clark are not available to you, or to my kids, my stepmom with four kids,” McLeod-Skinner said. “So making sure that those programs are in place, so that you have a chance to get ahead and have a chance to invest in yourself that education, it’s good for you, it’s also good for our economy.”

McLeod-Skinner graduated high school in southern Oregon and comes from a lower-income background. For these reasons, she empathizes with young students, especially those who may feel out of place at a private institution such as LC.

“When I went off to school, my mom gave me 1,000 bucks,” McLeod-Skinner said. “That’s all she had, so I had to rely on scholarships and Pell grants and loans to go to school. I know what that burden looks like and we must address it if we’re going to really invest in a future.”

While attending LC, McLeod-Skinner said she was profoundly influenced by former Provost Jane Atkinson who retired in 2018. Atkinson started her over 30 year career as an associate anthropology teacher, not long before McLeod-Skinner took one of her classes.

“I wanted to do good in the world, but I probably saw myself as small,” McLeod-Skinner said. “She taught me not to think of myself as small.”

McLeod-Skinner wanted to study engineering, so she transferred out of LC to finish her degree. However, she stayed in touch with Atkinson over the years and spoke at her retirement ceremony.

“My mom’s a retired teacher, K through 12, and she always said that a seed cannot grow on rock,” McLeod-Skinner said. “There are some people who create soil so seeds can grow. Jane very much created soil, rich soil, so that seeds can grow. That was a great legacy and I’m sure thousands of people could probably tell the same story about her.”

McLeod-Skinner has her mother to thank for many of her unique life experiences. Though she was born in Milwaukee, she spent time being schooled in Tanzania after her mother was offered a teaching job in the country. With only 5% of the school’s population being white, McLeod-Skinner felt she was on someone else’s turf. She views this as a sometimes intimidating, but very rewarding process.

McLeod-Skinner connected this feeling of “being on someone else’s turf” to being LGBTQ, as well as sympathizing with other voters.

“As a white woman, I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color,” McLeod-Skinner said. “But I do know that visceral feeling in your stomach where someone looks at you, sometimes with hatred in their eyes, who knows nothing about you … Part of what I bring to my role in public service is to try to make sure I’m creating safe spaces so that people don’t have that visceral feeling.”

The upcoming election will take place on Nov. 8, and many LC community members qualify to vote.

“You can still register to vote even if folks are out of state students and vote in this election because Lewis & Clark is in the district,” McLeod-Skinner said. “When they go back home later, they can re-register back in their home place, but being able to have an impact in this critical time is so important. I ask my fellow Pios, my sister Pios to help me out so we can carry this vision forward.”

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