SALEM – Nyssa City Councilor Roberto Escobedo had just filled his coffee cup when he saw his opportunity.
Escobedo was at the Salem Convention Center last month as part of a large group of mayors, councilors and city employees on hand to lobby legislators regarding a high-dollar plan to help the homeless and address lack of housing in Oregon.
Escobedo, a member of the League of Oregon Cities board, spotted Gov. Tina Kotek as he turned with his coffee cup in hand.
“I thought, well here is my chance,” said Escobedo.
Escobedo put his coffee cup down and marched over to where Kotek stood chatting with several other people at the Jan. 25 event.
“I introduced myself,” Escobedo said. Then he quickly began to outline some of the challenge facing Malheur County.
“I wanted her to know the behavioral and mental health problems we have here. I let her know what the big issues we have here are,” said Escobedo.
The Nyssa councilor, who is serving his third term, said he also pointed out to the governor that the county needs a larger, newer mental health in-patient facility. He talked to her about the county’s substance abuse problems and challenges with the homeless population.
“She was very receptive. She listened to what I had to say,” said Escobedo.
Then, said Escobedo, Kotek said she planned to visit Malheur County in the future.
“I let her know I had emailed her a couple of weeks before inviting her here and to host her,” said Escobedo.
The governor then left to take the stage to address the gathering of city officials. Later that day, Escobedo said Kotek reached out.
“I received a text about two hours later and she said she liked our conversation and she can’t wait to work with me,” said Escobedo.
The trip to Salem and his slot on the League of Oregon Cities board is a bit of a departure for Escobedo, who has spent his last two terms as a city councilor as low-key role player.
He said he wants to change that.
“Now is the time to make a change,” said Escobedo.
Escobedo said after studying the hometown political arena he feels many voters feel the same.
“I feel like the people who voted me in, they know what I am about,” he said.
Escobedo said he sees too much disparity in the community where many are financially stable while others struggle. Escobedo said he believes there should be an equitable balance.
“I always try for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community,” he said.
That means, he said, ensuring groups in the community – people of color, the handicapped – have a voice.
“I feel like some in our communities are left out,” he said.
Escobedo said he especially wants to safeguard the ability of the Latino community to be involved in local politics and decisions.
He said the Nyssa community is 67% Latino but their voices are often muted. He said bilingual services need to be accessible.
“I am going to be a voice for my constituents. I want to be that voice for ones who don’t have a voice. I am for the people,” he said.
Escobedo said there are several issues he believes need to be addressed in Nyssa, including the city’s parks.
“There are parks but there isn’t anything in them. The kids, they don’t have anything,” he said.
Escobedo said while he understands available funds in a rural community can be sparse, he still believes there is no harm in seeking to find ways to enhance a community.
“I am out there, chasing the money, looking at how to make this community better,” he said.
Escobedo said he is optimistic about the future, not only for Nyssa but the county.
“Good things will come to our community,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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