Pete Grabiel: Democrat for Oregon State Representative: District 33

Today we explore the Oregon House of Representatives District 33 race (representing downtown and Northwest Portland and St. Johns). Because residents of the district vote 80 percent Democratic in the general election, the winner of the May 21st Democratic primary will most likely be our next representative.

Today, we have the privilege of sitting down with one of the Democratic contenders, Pete Grabiel. Pete Grabiel is notable for his background as a long-time advisor to developing countries at the climate change negotiations at the United Nations. But he was motivated to run for office for the first time in his life to make Portland and Oregon work better for families and small businesses, and he is focused on changing how the State addresses public health and safety, homelessness and education while continuing the State’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Let’s dive in!

St. Johns is an incredible community. It is what people think of when they think of Portland. It embodies those values. It’s hard working. There are a bunch of small businesses. It is a close-knit  community of families who care about each other. It’s a great place.

Like most of the district, I live in Northwest Portland, but I went to St. Johns first when I started knocking on doors. I wanted to understand the community’s perspective on reforming Measure 110 which I believe was necessary to reign in public drug use, and I wanted to see if they felt the way I do when I see the mental health crisis that is playing out on our streets. St. Johns is the most progressive part of the district but that doesn’t mean they are OK with our current policies. So I went over there and knocked on the doors of voters to hear what they had to say. I learned pretty quickly that the entire community has suffered a collective trauma over the last four years that is completely unacceptable. When I go to Salem and represent them in this district I will take those perspectives with me. And I won’t forget St. Johns, you will see me at the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival and the St. Johns Parade. You’ll see me in this community and I’ll be available to talk with constituents so we can solve their problems together. 

Life Outside of Politics

My activities outside of work include, in order of priority, playing guitar (my neighbors and I organize the block parties and provide the music), whitewater rafting (my brother Pablo and I have several boats and lead multi-day trips for friends on most PNW rivers 2-3 times a year), fishing (I am a terrible fisherman but love doing it), snowboarding (I taught my daughter to ski from my snowboard during Covid, and we still go up most weekends in the winter), hiking (1-2 week extended backcountry trips across North America), and running marathons (14 marathons now – I bought a house one block from forest park so I would be able to run whenever I want).

On Environmentalism

From 2003 to 2006 I worked with a number of non-profit environmental law firms while I was in law school in Washington DC. During that time I worked mainly on clean air and water issues at the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC).  After a short stint in private practice, I returned to non-profit environmental work and began advising small island states on the climate negotiations at the United Nations. At that time, a lot of smart people had devised a plan to eliminate one of the six major families of greenhouse gasses called HFCs. In 2009, I drafted the first proposal at the United Nations to do just that on behalf of two small island states. Later that year the Obama administration got behind the plan and for the next seven years we worked with them to get the deal done. By 2016, I had been advising the Africa Group of 58 countries on the plan for several years. When the United Nations allowed Rwanda to host the meeting where the deal would be voted on, we got it done and the Kigali Amendment became international law and HFCs are being phased-out of use. I’m proud of that work.

Given that environmentalism has been the focus of my professional life, I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when the local environmental endorsement of the OLCV went to one of my opponents who had absolutely no environmental background or history of involvement. They didn’t tell me exactly why they did that but only said my other values didn’t align with the organization. I believe my position as the only candidate in this race advocating for rehabilitation-focused reform of Measure 110, and public drug use  may be what they were referring to. It is also worth noting that the former CEO of ORBC (the bottle drop entity) is the Executive Director of the OCLV. Perhaps that was also a factor.

Public Consumption of Fentanyl – Reform Measure 110

We had to reform Measure 110. We had to end public drug use. We had to to have the coercive effect of the criminal justice system available to policy makers to get more people into treatment. We reintroduced the criminal justice system in a rehabilitation-focused way in March and that will take effect on September 1. We aren’t trying to punish those suffering from addiction, but we need to get more people into treatment while respecting our communities. When this race started in January my position was an outlier in the Democratic party. But now that the overwhelming majority of legislators passed the reform, it’s mainstream. There will be other tough decisions ahead. But I am going to continue to lead with common sense. 

Mental Health Support Crisis

People suffering a mental health crisis in Oregon should not be left to suffer on our streets. Our state laws need to change so we can get people into care. This is one of the most difficult states to civilly commit someone suffering a mental health crisis. I don’t think that is compassionate or comports with our values. We spend more money than almost any other state on mental health and yet we continue to rank in the bottom five nationally in terms of outcomes and access to mental health care.  My party, the Democrats have run this state, county and city for decades and our party must answer for that and do better.  

On the Stop the Bottle Drop in St. Johns and Reforming the Bottle Bill

We must be honest about what the bottle bill is doing to our communities in the midst of a fentanyl crisis.  A bottle redemption center in the middle of St. Johns would be a disaster under current conditions. When I represent St. Johns in the Oregon House we will reform the bill and there is no way I am letting a bottle drop center come to St. Johns when Fentanyl is everywhere and a pill costs just a dollar.  I was meeting with residents in downtown who literally could not leave their homes at night for months until the Governor ended cash for bottles there. If it’s good enough for downtown, why wouldn’t we save St. Johns from that same fate. When the law was passed in 1971, there were no recycling programs in most of the State. But in 2024, in St. Johns and all of Portland, recycling is mandatory. In this community, there is not a substantial environmental benefit. It’s not moving the needle on recycling. Instead, these centers create civic and economic dead zones. We don’t need that here right now. 

When you look at  Lombard Street, there are County homeless services on one end; if you put the bottle drop on the other end of the street, it will become the superhighway of suffering right down to the civic and business center of the entire community. We also need to consider that an elementary school is right down the street. From day one, you can tell the people of St. Johns that I am fully committed to fighting that bottle redemption center as their state representative. I will use every means at my disposal. The OBRC gets millions of dollars for the program they want to keep. And if they want to keep any program, they must be sensible about where those things go. That is not in St. Johns. 

Reproductive Rights and Access to Comprehensive Reproductive Health Care

I am a fierce defender of reproductive rights. I would happily lead the charge to make abortion a constitutional right (with the vote of the people). Yes, we should have some limit for normal situations, but there should always be access to abortion whenever the health of the mother, for stillbirths, and every time in case of rape. 

Ensuring Public Funding for K through 12

The first step to improve education is acknowledging that we had the most prolonged school closures in the world here in Oregon. As a result, only 40% of Oregonians in my daughter’s grade (3rd grade) can read and write at the third-grade level. We have an unprecedented educational crisis that has never been seen before. Everything is on the table until this generation of COVID-19 children returns to the standards we have set for them. We don’t need to eliminate graduation standards and mask what we’ve done to our kids by closing our schools for so long. We need to know where we are failing our kids and deploy resources to help them. We need emergency funding from every source possible to and everyone has to work to solve this problem.   

*The St. Johns Review Newspaper does not endorse candidates or parties for elections. This article is a paid advertorial.
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