Jessica Gomez is one of the few Latina CEOs in the U.S. and wants to be Oregon’s first Latina governor.
But she doesn’t see running the government like operating a business, a common Republican view on governance. “Government exists for the public good, but it is important to recognize who the customer is, and that’s the taxpayer,” Gomez says in a recent interview with Eugene Weekly.
A Medford tech entrepreneur, Gomez is running for the Republican nomination in the Oregon gubernatorial race at a time when the state’s Republican Party has stepped further into right wing ideologies. She says it’s time the Republican Party offers more solutions for Oregon’s problems. And for Gomez, who experienced homelessness as a teen, the state’s biggest problem is homelessness.
In 2013, Gomez founded Rogue Microdevices, a tech manufacturing company in Medford. She serves as the company’s CEO and she has won several awards from tech industry organizations for her entrepreneurship.
But she’s running for governor because she says the state needs a leader that can make taxpayers feel like their money is being used well. “We haven’t had that in a while,” she adds. “Things have gotten pretty expensive and we’re still struggling with many of the issues.”
Gomez shies from the designation “moderate,” instead saying she’s a “forward-thinking” Republican. She says the state won’t function with someone in the governor’s office who has an activist agenda. Instead, she’s calling for more practical solutions, saying if Oregon can’t work together, then the state won’t be able to move forward.
She’s entering the race at a time when the Republican Party has shifted far to the right over the years. The Oregon Republican Party has echoed many of former President Donald Trump’s narratives, even after the Jan. 6 insurrection. After the insurrection, the Oregon Republican Party released a resolution via Twitter that the event was a “false flag,” meaning it was staged to appear as if conservatives had invaded the U.S. Capitol. The party also criticized on Twitter the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the insurrection.
Gomez tells EW that Trump “clearly did not win” the 2020 election. But she recognizes some of the questions about election integrity, most of which have been brought up by Republicans and the right wing. “It’s really important that people feel good about elections and that their vote matters,” she adds, saying she supports audits if it helps people trust the election process.
“Republicans want to have a ‘big tent,’ but I think we’ve had one party in charge for so long that now the Republicans as the minority party are so frustrated that they’ve taken on this tactic that they’re going to go further and further right, out of frustration,” Gomez says. “What we need is to bring people around and gather around some real, down-to-earth practical solutions that are going to help bring our state together.”
One issue that Gomez brings up is child care and its impact on the workforce. During COVID-19, young parents have had to juggle remote school for their children while working from home, and not every household has had family support to help with child care, she says.
“What I’d like to see is a path forward where employers would offer at-work child care. There are some regulatory barriers, including zoning, to really do that,” she says. “And make sure it’s tax deductible for the parent and the company.” Making child care more accessible for families is a way to get people back to work and advance the parents’ careers, she adds.
The biggest problem that Gomez wants to address in the state is its homeless crisis, which she says is a mental health and addiction problem at its core. “There is this misconception that leaving people on the street to live like that is somehow compassionate, and it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” she says. “You never see this in any country as rich as ours. We have failed to deal with this problem.”
The state doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with the root causes of homelessness, she says. She proposes a three layer care model: closed, assisted living and independent living. “We’ve got to get people into these programs where they can’t leave and they have to accept the help to deal with these underlying issues, so we can make them healthy enough to make good decisions,” she adds.
Gomez says she experienced homelessness in the ’90s as a teen, but her grandmother stepped in to get her off the streets. “Not everybody has that,” she says.
She says the state has the money to implement such a model but wastes so many resources on services related to the homelessness crisis, from acute care at hospitals to the jails. “We’re spinning our wheels,” she adds. “We have to reprioritize and spend our resources in a meaningful way.”
Without a place to take someone experiencing homelessness where they can stay for months to address their mental health and restore their footing, all of the CAHOOTS services in the world won’t solve the issue, she says.
Before entering the race for the current Republican gubernatorial primary, Gomez ran for 3rd district Oregon Senate seat in 2018. According to OreStar, she raised and spent more than $500,000 to try to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Jeff Golden of Ashland (who raised $190,000). But Gomez lost the race by about 10 percentage points to Golden.
So far, Gomez’s campaign finances look slimmer than her 2018 campaign and less than her Republican competitors. She’s raised about $260,000. Her competitors have raised more: Bud Pierce $831,506, Christine Dragan $797,500 and Bridget Barton $513,634.
Among Gomez’s contributors who’ve given the most money are Ashland philanthropists Syd and Karen DeBoer (each gave $12,500); Gomez’s company Rogue Valley Microdevices, which contributed $12,000; and the Long Beach, California-based health insurance company Molina HealthCare, which gave $10,000.
The list of Republican hopefuls is crowded, but Gomez says there are some candidates who stand out, including herself. “I have a different background than the rest of the candidates,” she says. “I’m a business owner, I have a lot of lived experience and understand the struggle that everyday Oregonians have. I think that will resonate well.”