Instructor uses experience in classroom to shape decisions as state representative
By Mary Primbs
As national and state election day rapidly approaches, Chemeketa finds itself in an uncommon position of having one of its community members directly involved in both education and politics. This illustrates the fact that we need not be the apathetic, or otherwise uninterested, citizens who constitute the estimated 40% of the nation’s eligible voters who won’t drop their ballot into a box on November 8.
Few people get the opportunity to make a notable impact in both of these fields. However, for Chemeketa communications instructor and incumbent Oregon State District 20 Representative Paul Evans, this is simply a day-to-day reality. For his students, Evans’ dual role brings a unique perspective into the classroom: one that relatively few college students across the country have access to.
Teaching at Chemeketa has helped shape Evans’ approach and inform his decisions as a state representative. “I am intensely grateful for the two best jobs in the world – working with young people every day, and serving my community in the citizens’ chamber. I have an opportunity to help share experiences with both communities – legislators as well as students,” Evans said.
Evans began his political career in 1989 when he was elected to the Monmouth City Council, which he served on until 1992. He was then mayor of Monmouth from 1999-2002 and a member of the Central School Board from 2008-2011. In addition, Evans was appointed a senior policy advisor to Governor Ted Kulongoski from 2007-2010.
In 2014, Evans was elected as the District 20 (Independence, Monmouth, South/West Salem) representative in the Oregon House of Representatives. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, Oregon is a “Gray” state, meaning legislators here are part-time and typically spend between two-thirds and 70% of their working hours involved in activities ranging from researching issues relevant to the state’s needs to communicating with constituents to campaigning. Simple arithmetic reveals that such a part-time politician is unlikely to be able to hold only that job.
FiveThirtyEight, a blog that specializes in U.S. political news, reported in April of this year that Oregon state legislators are paid just under 61% of the state’s median household income. In one sense, this is why Evans must maintain his teaching duties at Chemeketa, but his desire to serve the state and its citizenry in both jobs is mutually beneficial to the two institutions, as he can bring different perspectives into each environment.
During his first term in office, Evans was involved in several pieces of legislation that affected higher education. According to Evans, the most important pieces included: “increased funding for baseline budgets of public colleges and universities, supporting the ‘Oregon Promise’, capital investments at Western Oregon University, program investments in Chemeketa Community College’s ‘college-inside’ courses, support for the Advanced Transportation Technology Center at Linn-Benton Community College, as well as enhanced protections for victims of sexual assault at public facilities.”
Evans said that he strives to keep personal politics out of his classroom: “I try very hard to separate the classroom environment from the elections aspect,” he said. “We talk about policy, issues, and governance, but I earnestly try to keep the campaign/election FAR removed from the classroom. I do not want anyone to believe I am using my position as a teacher inappropriately. I try hard to balance my time but sometimes the governance process has to take priority because of the inherent time-lines.”
Evans appreciates those who have supported his dual roles and schedules as both an instructor and a state representative. “I am very grateful for the help, support, and understanding of Chemeketa Community College administrators, faculty, staff, and students. Everyone has worked very hard to accommodate a unique circumstance,” Evans said.
When asked what advice he would give students about the upcoming election, Evans replied: “Seek out truth and vote your conscience. We need all Americans involved in the great work of reclaiming the promise of our Republic. The only ‘wrong’ vote is the vote not made.”