From migrant farm worker to legislative candidate

By Connie Garcia of Independence, Oregon. Connie is the Democratic candidate in HD 20. Learn more at

September 11, 2006. Here I am at my first Candidate Forum, at Green Villa Barn in Independence, Oregon, the same property where as a child I worked alongside my parents picking crops. I gaze out at the audience gathered on this 5th anniversary of 9/11 and think how remarkable a journey it has been to get here as the Democratic candidate for House District 20. My story is uniquely American, and in my speech I will tell them I am part of the American Dream; a dream I fear is turning into the American Nightmare for our children.

My parents emigrated from Mexico in the early forties. I was born in Texas in 1948. My father was a carpenter, but by the time I was nine he had lost his job to the big construction companies that built what he called ticky-tacky houses. He decided to follow his brothers up “north” and we became migrant farm workers. It was a difficult adjustment for everyone, but we managed. We followed the crops throughout the Northwest – Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Our first home in Washington was a boarded up chicken coop. In Oregon we lived in labor camps, and in Idaho we were housed in an abandoned freight car.

The first years of my life I was allowed to go to school, but after sixth grade my school days were numbered. From then on I went to school from November to March, only if there was no work or if it rained and we couldn’t work. My family first came to Independence in 1957, and settled permanently in 1963. I felt very lucky to be allowed to go to school and actually get to high school. Unfortunately, it was there that I discovered that I had no recognized credits so wouldn’t be graduating. In my junior year I dropped out and got married. However, I enrolled right away in a GED program and got my high school certificate. I didn’t know how, but I knew somehow that certificate was going to be my ticket out of my life of poverty. I had a dream.

Two years into our marriage, my husband was drafted. He was sent to Vietnam when our second child was 4 weeks old. We didn’t know about deferments. My husband came home suffering from what was later called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but we didn’t know about that either. We got a divorce, and I became a single parent. Holding on to my dream, I enrolled at Western Oregon University (then Oregon College of Education) and in 1969 got a Bachelor of Arts degree and a teaching certificate, with endorsements in Spanish, reading and elementary education. Happily, my husband and I remarried and are parents of five children, and grandparents of five.

I started my teaching career in 1978, and back then Oregon had one of the best educational systems in the Northwest, perhaps in the nation. I was living my dream, the American Dream. I was proud to be a teacher. I went back to WOU and in 1979 got my Masters of Science degree in Education, adding an endorsement in Special Education and later English as a Second Language. But then the funding cuts began chipping away at the programs that helped our students develop their full potential. Hardest hitting was Measure 5, the ballot initiative passed in 1990 which shifted the burden of funding schools from property taxes to income taxes. Oregon dropped from being a national education model to a state in trouble. Since then, education has suffered from this unstable funding source, held hostage to the booms and busts of Oregon’s predictable economic cycles.

Recently passed ballot measures such as Measure 30 make it even harder to raise revenue for any program, not just for education. All those things that had made Oregon education great-- music, art, vocational training, outdoor school, and artists-in-residence programs--have all been cut or eliminated. Students now have to raise money for field trips, band, choir, or sports activities. Teachers spent as much as $500.00 of their own money for their classrooms. Our students are being denied the basic educational opportunities that their parents had. In the Central School District here in Independence some students have gaps in their school day of several hours because scheduled classes simply aren’t available. Schools throughout Oregon are unable to provide the mandated 180 days of school because they cannot afford it.

It saddens me to see the American Dream fading as contracting educational opportunities rob our youth of hope for a better future. Out of hopelessness and boredom, some of our best and brightest kids are turning to drugs and crime, contributing to such problems as the current meth epidemic. I decided I wanted to do something more, and that’s way I’m running for State Representative. I think we, as Oregonians, want a better future for our children. We don’t want them to work hard just to get by. We want them to work hard to get ahead. That is where leadership is needed at the State level to fix a broken system. And we need a government willing to be transparent in its process, inviting, not discouraging citizen participation. The Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature, created in 2005, is advising us how to move in that direction, but we can do more.

If elected I would begin by educating my constituents about the problems the Legislature faces. Enormous constraints now built in to our Constitution make it virtually impossible to raise revenue, let alone maintain current levels. I have pledged to hold monthly Town Hall meetings in my District which I hope will become a positive force for change. Constructive change begins with constructive dialog. Once people know what is going on, and have a chance to give their input, I am convinced we can shape Oregon’s future and get it back on track. And once again help our children achieve the American Dream.

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    Thank you, Connie, for sharing your story with us.

    Everyone else, donate to Connie's campaign via ActBlue.

  • LT (unverified)

    And for those of you who live in the Marion Polk area (or know people who do), volunteer work is always appreciated, like going door to door. Or just talking to people you know.

    It has been my experience going door to door in my neighborhood that there are a lot of people who appreciate someone coming to their door--and who may not have made up their minds how to vote.

    Connie also appears to have more lawn sign locations than the incumbent, and she has done a great job in debates.

  • spicey (unverified)

    I'd still like to see a "here's the races that are closest, where your money would do the most good to take back the Oregon House" kind of post.

    and, love the Troll fund, awesome work, Kari!

  • G. Karnezis (unverified)

    Good Luck, Buena Suerte, Connie. It's testimonies like yours that keep me and I'm sure so many others going and challenging the cynics. I will share this with others and applaud your efforts. I look forward to your working with the candidate I'm working for nearby, Rob Brading. You'll both make a difference.

  • Shirley Reed (unverified)

    I am proud to have worked beside Connie in Central School District. She's a role model for us all. Even my husband, a leader in our local Republican Party, is campaigning for Connie. She's the best chioice, no matter what your party affiliation. Go Connie!

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