Foster care reform has played an important role in Oregon’s gubernatorial race this year. Both incumbent Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Republican challenger Knute Buehler have pitched ideas about how to address persistent problems in Oregon’s child welfare system, highlighted by a scathing state audit released by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson (R) in January.
That issue took center stage this summer with a controversial television ad campaign critical of Gov. Brown.
In the emotional commercial, foster parents Ben West and Paul Rummell talk about their relationship with their adoptive son, Jayquan, while also calling attention to Oregon’s crisis.
“We saw first-hand how broken the system is,” West says, as he sits with his family on a couch in their living room. According to the ad, the couple fostered 13 children before adopting Jayquan.
The couple go on to blame Gov. Brown for problems with the state’s foster care system.
“Children are suffering under her care,” Rummel says. “Kate Brown, we need to fix this problem.”
At the end of the one-minute commercial, they include a phone number for Brown’s office and urge viewers to tell the governor to “start putting kids first.”
The ad just finished airing in Oregon — federal election laws prohibit “electioneering communications” 60 days before a general election. But the ad has sparked a fiery debate on the role of caregivers in the political process, including criticism from Brown’s supporters, including some in the foster care system. “No one should use foster kids as a means to attack a political opponent,” wrote one foster parent in a letter last month.
The two are not new to politics. The couple were among the plaintiffs in a court case that struck down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014. And West made an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for a U.S. House seat in 2016. Rummell, his husband, is a Democrat.
Earlier this year, the couple formed a foster families advocacy group, Oregon Foster Families First. In May, it held a rally at the state capitol, calling for more support for foster parents and state investments in programs like mentoring for foster parents.
In a conversation with The Chronicle of Social Change, West talked about why he helped produce the political ad and what the state needs to do to improve its child welfare system.
You can read more from the profile piece here.