Five Questions for Jennifer McGuirk, Multnomah County Auditor
Jennifer McGuirk talks about running a campaign, making democracy more representative, and why she’s bringing an equity lens to the Auditor’s office.
The 2018 Multnomah County Auditor’s race was your first time running for office. Why did you decide to run and what were some of your best resources for putting together your campaign? I decided to run before the 2016 election happened after I learned about an internal audit done in the County Sheriff’s Office that found disproportionate use of force against people of color in county jails. Around that same time, Disability Rights Oregon published a report about deplorable conditions in our jails for people experiencing mental health crises. Our office did not look into these issues, which I found extremely disappointing and frustrating. I thought I could keep complaining about what we weren’t doing, or I could run for office to make sure these issues, and other important ones, did get audited. And then the 2016 presidential election happened, and the outcome deepened my resolve that women and people of color need to be running for office more and trying to make our democracy much more representative. I couldn’t have run for office without the support I received from a core group of volunteers, my parents and in-laws, my husband, and friends. The support I received from women was overwhelming in the best possible way. From Persisters to Nasty Women to other Emerge Oregon alumni, women helped my campaign so much. I’m not just talking about financial contributions, though those were crucial. But also important were people’s gifts of time, expertise, and counsel. To any woman thinking about running for office, I can’t recommend Emerge Oregon enough. The two co-executive directors are phenomenal. They lead trainings that give you the tools you need to run a campaign you can be proud of. They and the Emerge network will cheer you on, provide guidance, and help keep you going strong.
A county auditor position is one that is often overlooked in elections, yet in the 2018 midterms, this was a very competitive race in Multnomah County that got a lot of attention. Why do you think that was? I think the race for County Auditor has often been overlooked because these races tend to be uncontested. Uncontested races are typically ignored. No public debates. No editorials or news articles. That can reinforce the Multnomah County Auditor’s lack of visibility. If voters don’t know much about the Auditor, they are not likely to know about the critical work being performed by the office. But competitive elections like the one I recently won generate interest because candidates have to tell people what they will do, and then, voters can hold them to those things.
During the campaign, you stated that, when needed, audits should be conducted with an equity lens and from the perspective of the people who access the resources and services. Why is it important to you to approach audits this way? It is important to me to approach audits this way because the goal of government auditing is to improve government. To me, it just makes sense that you would include the people receiving government services in the conversation about how to make government better. Using an equity lens consistently in our work helps ensure that people affected by an issue participate in driving solutions.
You were just sworn in for your four-year term as Multnomah County Auditor. What do you see as your most important projects and how can people find out about them and engage with your work? Initially, my office will complete several audits started under the prior Auditor. My priority to bring an equity lens into audit processes is being incorporated into these in-process audits as much as possible and will be a foundation for the audits that my office starts this year. My office will also start audits of conditions in County jails, conditions in adult care homes and facilities, and accessing homeless services. These are audits I pledged to start my first year in office. People can find out more about our work on our website, multco.us/auditor, and on my government official Facebook page. They are also welcome to call me at 503-988-3320 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As an elected official, you’ll be working to solve problems in Multnomah County, but as a longtime Portland resident, what are some your favorite things about living here? I love our parks and open spaces, our amazingly diverse food scene, and all of the coffee. During my general election campaign, I held weekly coffees at shops around our county, and it was awesome! I love our many communities and feel tremendously honored to serve them all.
Margaret Foley is the Communications Director for NWGSD.