INTERVIEW: District 23 Rep. Anna Scharf

It was in the news throughout 2020 – District 23 Representative Mike Nearman’s actions allowing far-right protesters into the Capitol, then being expelled. Now that Nearman is out of Salem and out of the news, who is this woman who was selected to replace him?  

Representative Anna Scharf comes from Philomath. She has worked her way through the ranks from lobbyist to Policy Analyst. And now she’s got the big chair, leading District 23 into 2022. So we sat down to get to know more about this remarkable woman.  

TCA: Hi, I’m Sally Lehman, and I’m with The Advocate.  

Recently, District 23 welcomed a new state representative. She was born right here in Benton County and has served in a variety of positions prior to this. Today, we’re speaking with Representative Anna Sharf. Thank you for being here today, Representative.  

Scharf: Thanks for having me, Sally. I appreciate the opportunity.  

TCA: After growing up in Philomath, you attended Southern Oregon University for your undergraduate degree, then you earned your MBA in global management. Where did you study for your graduate degree?  

Scharf: I was really fortunate. At the time, I was working for Hewlett Packard full time. I spent 10 years working at Hewlett Packard in Corvallis, and they had a program where you could do [that]. This was in the infancy of online learning, and it was perfect for me because [for] my position there I was traveling and I had one young child and one on the way, and so I was able to finish my MBA while juggling all of those things at the same time through the University of Phoenix.  

TCA: Wonderful. Your career in politics began with the Polk County Fair Board, then the Farm Bureau, and eventually you became a member of the school board. Did you ever think that you would be a state representative?  

Scharf: When I graduated from Southern Oregon in 1991, my first job was a lobbyist. I worked the ‘91 session for Brian Dela Schmidt, the Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Public Utility District, and a small group called OhGosh, which if some of you out there are old enough to remember, you used to be able to plug quarters in a vending machine at the gas station or in restaurants and pull out a pack of cigarettes. And we were the ones that passed that bill to get those cigarette vending machines removed from access to minors.   

Never in my wildest dreams, all those years [ago], did I think I would end up back in Salem as a legislator. I was very happy to be an advocate. I was happy to be an unpaid advocate for the last few years after serving on multiple boards – I think at one point in time, I had eight boards going at the same time. But you know, you get put where you’re supposed to be at the time for the right reasons, and here I am in Salem.  

TCA: What has it been like to step into the House of Representatives on such short notice?  

Scharf: The House of Representatives has been phenomenal. The Senate has reached across the chambers as well, but I have been embraced with open arms. It’s not the traditional way to come into office. It definitely was not without controversy. But both sides of the aisle have been nothing but gracious.   

The Republican caucus is already treating me like family. I don’t know that I would have survived the last special session that we had for a week and a half without their support and their knowledge and their history. But it’s definitely been phenomenal so far.  

And the outreach from the communities in Benton County, Marion County, Yamhill and Polk. They’re coming out of the woodwork just to be supportive, and I hope it stays that way, because we have a lot of work to do. And when we fight amongst ourselves, we make no progress.  

TCA: Are you planning on running for this seat when your current term ends?  

Scharf: I wouldn’t have put myself through the nomination process if I did not intend to run. Absolutely. We will not be able to file for re-election until after January 17 sometime. The Secretary of State’s Office has told us the maps will not be finalized, so we can’t officially file until then. But absolutely, I’m running in 2022. 

TCA: Do you have goals now for a higher office one day?  

Scharf: No. Short answer, no. You know what, I didn’t have this in my plans either, or at least in this time in my life. So when I say no, I don’t think anybody should ever say no because you never know what’s going to pop up in front of you.  

TCA: Recently, there was a bit of a dustup over Speaker Tina Kotek and the remapping of the state districts. The Republican members of the House made a motion to censure her for disorderly conduct. What are your thoughts on this?  

Scharf: I voted for the censuring of Speaker Kotek, and the reason that I did that is because she changed the rules of the game in order to win. And in politics, we have rules for a reason. And we abided by the rules. The Republican caucus abided by the rules before I joined them.   

Last session, they used the rules to, some would say, their advantage by slowing the reading of the bills. So we had a logjam that was building up. Working in the building, tracking legislation, I can tell you that logjam was pretty darn high. And in a bargain, which is often done in politics, the speaker made a deal with the House Republicans that if they would stop the logjam, she would give them equal representation during the redistricting process.  

Oregonians had already told us and the Democrats that they wanted equal representation in that process that only happens every ten years. Unfortunately, the initiative petition didn’t make it to the ballot, and so we didn’t have a chance for the voters to vote on that.   

When the speaker decided to pull the gavel from Representative Shelly Boshart Davis, House District 15, and change the balance of that committee, she changed the rules of the game in order for her own political gain. And you should never do that in politics.   

We are here to represent all of the people of the state, not one single party. Her actions were unconscionable to come out and do that in order just to move maps. She had us at the table. She had her quorum, which is the only reason she needed us in the building, because our votes were not going to matter at the end of the day, and she moved the maps forward.   

I’m grateful to the National Committee and other folks who are now stepping up to file lawsuits against the congressional maps, as I believe that they do have a chance in federal court to bring an actual balance back to congressional representation in the state of Oregon. The legislative maps are done.  

TCA: The Corvallis School Board is considering a COVID vaccine mandate for all students. Would that be something that you would support? 

Scharf: No, I do not. I don’t support mandatory health choices for any person.   

I believe in vaccinations as a personal choice. I don’t believe in forced medical treatment on anyone. And I believe that that’s what this is and I also believe it’s unfounded.   

I have requested from the governor upon multiple times and the Oregon Health Authority to address natural immunity for those of us who have had COVID, like I did back in April for two weeks, who continue to carry antibodies and natural immunity in their body. I was just tested a month ago and have been exposed multiple times and have yet to be reinfected. I’ve asked for them to consider that, if they’re going to move forward with these mandates, and they have refused.   

The only response I could get from the Oregon Health Authority was that reinfection data is not available because they don’t track it, and it’s extremely rare. And they referred me to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], which also is saying the exact same thing. So until we recognize that, until we have longer studies about the risks especially to minors, I am not going to endorse force vaccinations for anybody in this state, especially children.  

TCA: Another question facing our schools is whether or not there should be gender inclusive restrooms. As a former school board member, do you believe that these restrooms should be part of our children’s educational experience?  

Scharf: I think the easiest way to solve that is just to have individualized restrooms that have a sign on the outside of them that say “restroom.”   

I think that labeling anyone based upon their gender, based upon their sex, based upon their race [or] religion, based upon their vaccination status, is nothing but discrimination. It’s segregation and discrimination in its worst forms. So the simple solution is individualized bathrooms with a sign that says “restrooms.” 

TCA: Across Oregon, unions have been stepping up to fight for the rights of workers. What is your opinion on unions? 

Scharf: I think unions have their place. I know that the Kaiser Permanente Organization is facing a terrible situation. Not only are their workers – their nurses – looking at going on strike, but they’re also looking at losing a portion of their workforce very soon, in the next week, due to the COVID vaccine mandate for health care workers in the state of Oregon and Washington. I also know that there are several health care organizations that have come out in opposition to that.  

So if the unions are fighting for the betterment of their employees, I think it’s a great opportunity.  

I also appreciate the fact that the state of Oregon is an “opt out” situation so you can work for an organization that is unionized, but you are not forced to become part of that union. And part of that stems, part of my belief in that stems from, [the fact that] unions tend to be political action committees as well. So if you are forced to give money out of your paycheck to your union, but you don’t believe in what your union is endorsing legislatively or legally, you shouldn’t be forced to give your money to your union.   

So I think unions have their place. I just have reservations as to what their places can be at different times.  

TCA: Since the pullout of troops in Afghanistan, several Oregonians are welcoming the idea of Afghan immigrants coming to Oregon. How do you feel about that?  

Scharf: During legislative days, we were supposed to be in the Human Services Committee getting an update on the amount of Afghan refugees that have been relocated to the state of Oregon. But unfortunately, we were unable to have legislative days because session drug on – the redistricting session, and you cannot have legislative days while you were in session.   

My concern is not with the resettlement of Afghans anywhere in the United States. My concern is with the American citizens and the non-Afghan citizens that our government left behind in Afghanistan, and why we didn’t get them out and how we’re going to get them out.  

TCA: As you said, you came to your position through a series of unusual incidents, culminating in the expulsion of Mike Nearman from his seat – the first time anyone has been ejected from the House in Oregon. Prior to that, you were Mike Nearman’s aide.  

Scharf: I was his legislative policy analyst.  

TCA: Did you learn a lot working with Mike Nearman?  

Scharf: So, I worked for former representative Nearman during the 2019 short session and the 2020 long session. The 2019 session was quite memorable, as you’ll remember and your viewers will remember, the Republicans in both chambers walked out and stopped the legislative session. That was my first jump back into the building in many, many years, especially in a paid position.  

It was quite amazing to sit on the floor of the House during sine die, the end of 2019 session, at the representative’s desk with no other representatives from the Republican caucus and the chamber. I learned a lot that session about the power of the people in politics and the power that organizations and grassroots groups such as Timber Unity have in the process. It was a very successful session because a lot of bad things were stopped.  

During the 2020 session, I spent most of that session without Representative Nearman, because he was stripped of his committees and then eventually was expelled from the chamber.   

Fortunately, there’s a lot of work always to be done, whether it’s for other legislative members in researching topics and providing information to them or to the caucus. But there [were] a lot of voters in House District 23 that still deserve to have somebody in that building, watching and listening to what was going on, and making sure that information was fed back to them by the then Chief of Staff Becky Mitts, [who] is now my current Chief of Staff.  

TCA: So you mentioned Timber Unity. Do you support their efforts?  

Scharf: I absolutely 100% support Timber Unity. I am a proud member. 

TCA: What would your promises to the voters be in this current position?  

Scharf: Well, the first thing you learn in politics is never make promises. The second thing you learn in politics, especially in this state, is when you’re in the super minority, never make promises.   

But what I will say to the voters in House District 23 currently, and the ones that I’m going to have moving forward after the maps are finalized, is that I’m going to work hard every single day that I’m in Salem.   

Being in the super minority means that you’re constantly swimming and trying to swim upstream, you’re constantly trying to run uphill. It is a challenge. You often don’t get your legislation heard because legislation is decided and sent to committee by the Speaker, and then it is put on the hearings list by the chairs of the committees and the Republicans don’t chair any of the committees.   

So, I will fight. All I can say is that I will continue to fight every single day and make sure that voices are heard, because sometimes that’s what it takes is just persistence.  

TCA: What are your thoughts about Mike Nearman opening the door to the Capitol building and allowing protesters in?  

Scharf: The day that Mike opened the door, I was actually laying on the beach in Hawaii, a long ways away from anything that was going on. And my phone started blowing up. So December 21 is probably a day I best remember laying on the beach and forget about what happened that way.  

I, like my caucus members and many other people, gave former Representative Nearman the benefit of the doubt in his actions. Good people make mistakes. ‘Did he intend it? Didn’t he intend it?’ I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt up until the very last minute.  

It is no secret. It has been published. I sent him a letter as his staff, as his friend, as his constituent, and asked him to step down, to not put the citizens through an expulsion, to not put the House chamber through an expulsion. Not admit guilt, but to walk out with some dignity left. He chose to take his own path. Everybody has that right.   

But after the secondary OPB video came out regarding the pre-planning, it was pretty obvious that he needed to find a different path and not represent. And he’s doing well. I see him quite often, and he’s actually in a much better place and making bigger indents and headway for the state than I think he could have in Salem.  

TCA: Is there anything that you would like to say to your constituents from Benton County that may be watching this?  

Scharf: See if I can get through this without crying.   

I’m going to miss you. I’m going to miss you desperately. House redistricting maps weren’t kind to Benton County at all. House District 23 at the time – currently, so up until the new maps kick in, I had Monroe. I was representing the rural area parts of Philomath – where I grew up, and the folks out in Alsea with some of the best fishing in the state. Redistricting changed that.   

Philomath and Corvallis used to be combined with representation from Representative Marty Wildy1. It made sense even growing up. Philomath was kind of a bedroom community of Corvallis. We went [to Corvallis] to go grocery shopping. It made sense. It doesn’t make sense what they’ve done now.  

Philomath, Alsea, [and] Monroe will now be represented by Representative Gomberg, who lives in Lincoln City. They will be represented by a representative who lives where they go to vacation and fish, who knows nothing about natural resources, [the] timber and [agricultural] communities that he will now be representing.  [Note: Rep. Scharf got back to us and corrected her error here. The representative for this area has been Rep. Dan Rayfield.]

I feel for Benton County. I feel for those parts of Benton County.   

But what I can say is, just because I lost you, doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere. I will continue to fight for you. You are my hometown.  

TCA: Thank you for your time, Representative Scharf.  

Scharf: Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.  

Correction: In the original transcript, it seemed to imply that Rep. Dan Rayfield lived in Lincoln City. He lives in Corvallis. The inserted correction which Rep. Scharf asked to have included has been moved to another part of the paragraph. Our apologies for any confusion.

By Sally K Lehman