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Two Ashland city councilors eye run at state House

Two Ashland city councilors, Pam Marsh and Carol Voisin, both Democrats, are eyeing the state House seat soon to be vacated by Rep. Peter Buckley. Marsh has made up her mind for the race, and Voisin will decide by the end of the year, she says.

Others mentioned as possibilities for the seat say they have decided not to run, including AFL-CIO organizer Shaun Franks and Camilla Thorndike, director of Oregon Climate. Former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw, an experienced Senate aide in Salem, says she prefers local politics and wouldn’t consider the race.

House District 5 has a sound Democratic edge, so the May primary election could likely decide the successor to Democrat Buckley, who decided to step down after his sixth term ends just over a year from now.

“I don’t believe this district would elect a Republican, even a moderate one,” said Buckley. “It’s strongly Democratic after the 2000 redistricting.”

The two councilors are “both very bright people” but, said Buckley, he won’t endorse anyone in the primary. However, he offered to help the winning Democrat get elected, “once we have a nominee.”

Voisin, a teacher of ethical thinking at Southern Oregon University, said, “My constituents are asking me to run. I’m pretty serious about it. It would be very challenging. It takes getting up to speed on issues and communicating it to voters.”

Her goals as a state legislator, she said, would be around funding education, “being sure SOU is alive and well,” dedicating any kicker funds to education and working on a better formula for educational resources. Taxes and the environment would also be a major focus, she notes.

Marsh said her focus in the House would be creating better models for health care, sustainability and climate issues, and Oregon has positioned itself to “do important, interesting work” in these areas.

With two liberal women on the same primary ballot, voters would face the task, says Marsh, of “sorting out these two Ashland councilwomen from each other. Clearly Carol has been involved in local politics a long time. We have pretty different profiles on the council and have voted differently on some issues. We’re both interested in many of the same state-level issues. My approach is in collaboration, trying to pull people with varied viewpoints forward.”

Voisin says, “There is a huge difference between us, in both philosophy and style.”

Thorndike said she considered the run for a month, but closed the door for personal reasons and timing. Such a run might be a possibility in the future, she notes. Franks, a Peace House board member, said it “didn’t pencil out,” what with small children, but he hopes to run in the future.

Jeff Golden, a former Jackson County Commissioner who ran for state Senate in 1990, said he thought about running, but couldn’t do that and keep producing his “Immense Possibilities” public TV show. He said he’d like to see “younger blood,” such as Thorndike and Franks in the race — and, because Ashland is so rich in creative people, expects to see more candidates emerge.

Voisin was elected to City Council in 2008. Her second term is over at the end of 2016. She ran for Congress here in 2004. She worked at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., and Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. In California, she ran a business helping older people find work.

Her profile on the city website says her top priorities are fiscal responsibility, economic development, and practical sustainability, adding, “Her commitment to ethics, including her training in theology at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, informs her passion for politics in an integration of what humankind can and must be.”

Marsh, the director of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, was appointed to City Council in 2012 and elected in 2014. She was on the city Planning Commission before that. She and her husband own the Green Springs Inn. She moved here in 1994 from Palo Alto, where she was district representative for a state legislator and executive director of the Santa Clara County Cities Association.

The deadline for filing for the legislature is next March.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Pam Marsh
Carol Voisin