I first met Melissa Busch as I have a number of clients, through my daughter Gwnedolyn's school. She has been a delight to get to know and somehow as a mom, a nurse, and a candidate for the Oregon State Senate, she manages a calmness and positivity like few others. She is hoping to represent the folks in Senate District 16, encompassing Warren, TIllamook, Astoria, and neighboring communities. Her candid, thoughtful responses to my questions did not disappoint. Read on to learn more about Melissa and also join us at the shop for a Meet and Greet on April 12th at 5:00. Please RSVP here.
Tell us a little about yourself and how did you find your way into politics?
I was born and raised in the Midwest and moved to Oregon when I was 18. It’s been home ever since. I initially got a degree in Religious Studies at Lewis & Clark College but ultimately went back to school to become a nurse. I’ve been a practicing nurse for the past 13 years, initially working in the hospital setting and then moving into community-based nursing. I currently serve as a Home Health nurse, meaning I visit people who need care but have a difficult time getting out of their homes to access it. The last several years working in the community and seeing the struggles so many people face is really what propelled me into politics. I see firsthand the difficult decisions people make when trying to get healthy and stay healthy, like paying rent or buying groceries, going to work for a paycheck or staying home with an ill or aging family member, and paying for life saving medications or keeping the electricity on.
Did you have a turning point in your life, what happened?
When I was 15, living in my hometown in Kansas, I found myself in my local public health clinic, where a nurse told me I was pregnant. I spent the months that followed preparing to become a young mother, navigating social services and trying to access the things I would need to be successful Ultimately I found I was not able to be the parent I wanted to be at that time. Instead I chose to expand my family beyond blood-ties, planned an open adoption for my daughter, and became a birth mother instead. As a teenager, making pregnancy and parenting decisions, I was introduced to the ways that public policies impact our personal lives. Now, 25 years later, as a nurse myself, and a mother of a beautiful blended family, I have come to understand that connection even more deeply. This is really my “why”: it’s an experience that has shaped every aspect of my life moving forward, including my politics and my commitment to ensuring that all people have access to all aspects of health care and wrap-around services, like child care, education, housing, and transportation.
Why state legislature?
There are so many barriers in the way to creating healthy, thriving, equitable communities, and I want to work to fix that. As a nurse, there is only so much I can do; we need smart policy solutions to address the problems that so many Oregonians are facing and those decisions are often made at the state legislative level. We need voices of nurses, mothers, and working people at the decision-making table.
What geographic area would you be representing?
Senate District 16 is a geographically expansive district, including rural Multnomah County (Sauvie Island, portions of the Skyline Ridge), rural Washington County (North Plains, portions of Cornelius, and Banks), Columbia County (Scappoose, St. Helens, Venonia, Clatskanie), Clatsop County (Astoria, Warrenton, Gearhart, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Arch Cape), and Tillamook County (Manzanita, Garabaldi, Tillamook, Pacific City, Neskowin). The district is primarily rural but has diverse interests, economies, opportunities, and concerns.
What are you most proud of in regards to your career over the years?
I am continuously humbled by what I learn from my patients and their families and the willingness of people to let me into their homes and private lives. So often my clients thank me, but that appreciation goes both ways; the insights I have gained from the people I serve has been so formative, and keeps me pushing ahead through the demands of the campaign trail.
What are your goals if become a Senator?
My goal is to work collaboratively with legislators, stakeholders, and partner organizations to address there issues impacting all Oregonians, especially our most underrepresented and marginalized communities including our rural and coastal communities. I want to ensure all Oregonians have access to affordable, quality healthcare, childcare, eldercare, and education, with a safe place to live, a good living-wage job, and an environment that is thriving and sustainable.
How will you incorporate being a mother, a nurse, and a representative into real time experience? (BTW, check out Melissa's bad ass "MOM" tattoo above, love it!)
My lived experience as a working mother of school-aged kids and a daughter to aging parents means I understand the demands of balancing the responsibilities of family life with professional obligations, as well as the challenges of severe childcare shortages, and issues our public schools are facing due to persistent underfunding and limited resources to meet the needs of our kids. As nurse who spends my days visiting patients and families in the community, I have an intimate understanding of the lives of community members struggling to access not only healthcare but many other fundamental human needs, like housing and food.
What or who inspires you?
I am inspired by the number of women stepping into leadership roles at all levels of office, from school boards to city councils to the state legislature. It is critical we have representation and diverse perspectives at decision-making tables, and having more women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ folks elected into these roles is essential. I’m also continuously inspired by the young people in our communities; they show so much resiliency, compassion, and vision for the future, which drives me to strive harder for them.
Why do you feel it is important to shop local?
Local businesses are the backbones of our communities, creating economic opportunities through job creation and financial contributions with dollars that stay in our communities rather than going to large out-of-state corporations. I look for every opportunity to shop local for everything from clothing to restaurants to gift-giving.
What do you put on when you want to show the world you mean business? And then what do you wear when you want to unplug from work?
I love a good pantsuit or jumpsuit when I need to feel confident and strong. When I get a chance to unplug, I’m a jeans and t-shirt or easy button-up shirt kind of gal, or a summer dress and sandals if it’s a warm sunny day.
How has your sense of confidence changed over time?
When I was younger I tended to chase styles a bit more, trying to keep up with new trends or wear what everyone else was wearing (this also translated into wearing a lot more “fast fashion”). As I have gotten older, I have come to have a better sense of myself and my own style, which has translated into feeling more comfortable in my own skin and confident in stylistic choices. In turn, that has also meant I tend to invest more in pieces of clothing that I plan to keep longer-term, creating a less-is-more mainframe, and encouraging me to vote with my dollar whenever possible.
What is the best style advice you have ever received?
Wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident, it will show.
We’re so excited to host your house party/meet and greet with you on April 12th. Why do you take the time from your busy schedule to do such events?
This race is critical for Senate District 16 and the entire state of Oregon. It is a time of great change in the Oregon Legislature and we are preparing to enter a legislative session that will be addressing issues around healthcare, housing, climate change, and so much more. Whomever is elected to Senate District 16 will represent the constituents of the district, but ultimately the decisions made in the Legislature impact each and everyone of us across the state. That said, it’s so important for me to hear from people about what issues matter most to them, and the only way to do that is to make myself available and accessible. I look forward to taking time to meet you all on April 12th, and at more events to come.
All photos by Paul Rudolph