(Photo from left to right: Anita Yap and Michael Sonnleitner)

Civic Engagement is central to APANO’s mission of ensuring that Asian and Pacific Islanders are fully engaged in the political process, and have opportunities to vote in elections. In order to inform and educate our members about the May 19th special election, we have reached out to candidates who are primarily running for seats on local school boards and institutions of higher education. We will be posting candidate responses (from only those who have responded) on a daily basis.

Candidates have been asked the following questions to engage more directly with constituents, and for voters to be more familiar with their vision and policies. We are giving equal opportunity to all major candidates in the race.


Portland Community College- Zone 3

Michael Sonnleitner and Anita Yap

Note: We have also reached out to Courtney Wilton, the third candidate, but he did not complete our questionnaire.


1. How are you qualified to represent the interests and concerns of diverse communities of color, immigrants and refugees?

Sonnleitner: We are each most “qualified” to represent those whose experiences reflect our own. A person of mixed Irish/French/Anglo/Jewish descent, from age 5 I was raised as an only child in relative poverty by a single parent father. After my parent’s divorce most summers were with my mother at an orchard near Wenatchee WA, where I returned even after her mental condition led to her suicide when I was 15. Until I was 30, most summers saw me picking fruit with migrant (mostly undocumented) workers, living with them as they accepted me into their families. Realities relating to poverty, extreme personal loss, and immigrant issues are integral to my life.

Growing from these roots I was active with AFS in high school, attended Fisk University, worked for years with a Philippine human rights group in Minneapolis, traveled throughout India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. interviewing people who had known Mohandas Gandhi or M.L. King Jr. (for my Ph.D. dissertation), served Bangladeshi war refugees in India, became father to my foster daughter Margarita (who was imprisoned as undocumented from Mexico), and continue to work for U.S. immigration reform as a priority.

Yap: I have a vision for Portland Community College that is a vibrant element in our community, providing access and opportunity for our growing diverse community in Portland region. As the largest educational institution in the state of Oregon, we have the responsibility to serve our communities and provide skill building for a better life.

I am qualified to represent the interests and concerns of diverse communities of color, immigrants and refugees because I work directly with many organizations that support and represent our diverse communities. I am a board member of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, a member of the Steering Committee for the Jade International District and have volunteered with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) and East Portland Action Plan.  I’ve also been endorsed by a wide range of nonprofit, government, business and community leaders that support and work with our diverse Portland community.

Through my professional experience with the Office of Equity and Inclusion/Oregon Health Authority and my small business, The Multicultural Collaborative, I have expertise with community engagement, public policy and capacity building with low-income, diverse communities and underrepresented individuals.

2. What policies and practices do you support that ensure all Asian and Pacific Islanders can be meaningfully engaged in the decision-making of the institution(s) you would represent if elected?

Sonnleitner: Throughout my 27 years of full-time teaching at Portland Community College I have advocated for policies and practices which embrace multicultural engagement as central to decision making within the institution. Since 1995, I have intentionally recruited Asian, Latino, African American, and Native American people to provide diverse perspectives on the PCC Educational Advisory Council (which has provided input over these years to 5 PCC District Presidents). I would continue to advocate for diverse membership in every hiring committee and to seek a diversity in employment and promotions reflecting multicultural backgrounds.

If elected to the PCC Board of Directors, I pledge to be actively engaged with APANO to help provide me improved empathy and insights. I can be expected to remain a strong advocate for budget support of ESOL classes as well as for better Developmental Education (DE) curriculum to improve academic success. Current PCC Board practices reflect both a lack of transparency and empathy that is disturbing. I will seek to educate current Board members (as well as myself) by embracing more input from diverse communities.

Yap: I will support policies that allow for engagement of diverse voices, opinions and issues to be heard by the Board of Directors. I  will also advocate for training for the board and administration leadership on bias, cultural awareness, diversity, inclusion and equity. I have over 20 years experience in government and can help API students, staff and community leaders navigate the institutional system to advocate with decision makers, including the PCC Board and the State Legislature.

I will also advocate for changes in policy and procedures that allow for better communication and engagement with API students. I’ve already provided coaching and advice to PCC International Students to engage and advocate with the PCC Board and administration for changes to policy and budget programs.

Specific policy and practices that I will lead and advocate, include: student success for API and students color, including supporting and growing the Future Connect program, leveraging community support services, such as transportation, housing and social services to provide wrap around support for students in the most need.  I also will lead and advocate for implementation of PCC’s Strategic Plan for college-wide equity, inclusion and diversity initiatives for budget allocation, policies, programs and practices.

3. Oregon currently graduates half of it’s English Language Learners, who make up 10% of the state’s K-12 student population. What policies will you support to ensure that students–including ones who identify as English Language Learner, have access to quality education and career-readiness programs after graduation?

Sonnleitner: ESL, ENNL, and ESOL (as it is known at PCC) programs must have fully funded and improved curricula – that is best developed by faculty specialized in this field of learning. Faculty represented by the OEA and AFT-Oregon

must better organize together to improve K-12 completion rates for English language Learners – which help ensure access to education opportunities existing at places like Portland Community College. At PCC top-down directives to “streamline” ESOL as well as DE reading and writing often neglect instructor expertise and fail to encourage K-12 & Higher Ed. collaboration.

Resources necessary for innovative programs to flourish is not forthcoming from public funding which has declined from 61% of PCC revenues in 2006 to 31% in 2014. Liberal lobbying to increase K-12 funding is not enough to improve ESOL, DE or other) even to pre-1990 levels. Widespread expansion of programs to assist students in greatest need requires comprehensive tax reform to change the budget pie. As a teacher of “State and Local Government” for 27 years and as a citizen-lobbyist, I will lend my best efforts to this end.

Yap: I will support the current legislation, HB 3499, relating to English Language Learners support, budget and spending, in school districts. This is in direct support of the State’s Educational 40-40-20 goal for student success. Emphasis on K-12 student achievement drives the success rate for PCC programs. Focusing on ELL students is a very big change for educational policy that will greatly advance our API students for success.

I will support and lead initiatives at Portland Community College to grow the Future Connect program, which provides scholarships for first generation and low-income students. Leveraging community social services. I will also encourage focusing culturally appropriate changes to teaching methods and curriculum for ELL students and students of color.

4. Access to quality, affordable, and culturally competent health care ensures Oregonians are able to thrive and contribute. Please explain the policies you will support to increase access to care, and address health disparities, specifically for immigrants and refugees.

Sonnleitner: I would aggressively support opening all TANF, WIC, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs to all persons residing in the U.S. regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. While this stance may seem radical to some “Americans” who believe existing privileges should be protected from “aliens” or others, I see healthcare as a HUMAN RIGHT that should be as accessible in this country as it is in Canada, Japan, France, Cuba, or Britain. Healthcare is a basic security issue — and no neglected policy area is more prone to producing bankruptcy, criminal behavior, and unequal treatment relating to class and immigration status in the U.S..

For a dramatically better future for all, I have long supported the Healthcare for All Oregon call for a single-payer system in Oregon (sponsored by Sen. Michael Dembrow and others). I have organized educational events, attended rallies, and lobbied legislators on its behalf. If adopted in Oregon (or, perhaps, Vermont) within the next five years, it is my hope that local action might inspire national adoption (as was the case in Canada in the 1970s). We can and must provide an egalitarian healthcare security for all members of our human family.

Yap: I support many of the current legislation that provides culturally appropriate access to quality health care in Oregon. In particular, I support SB 894, the Comprehensive Women’s Health initiative. Studies have shown that API women suffer higher health issues, due to lack of access to culturally appropriate health advice, services and care. Other initiatives relating to Pacific Islander health coverage of the Compact of Free Association (COFA), SB 2522 is an important recognition of our Pacific Islander families rights for equal treatment in Oregon and the disparities they experience through the long history of the United States militarization of the Pacific Islands and resulting health disparities.

I’ve supported and will continue to support on-going health equity legislation, policy and access for immigrant and refugees and communities of color. Providing quality, accessible and culturally appropriate health care to our communities and students at PCC is a high priority for my campaign.

5. What policies relevant to your institution(s) do you support that strengthen economic opportunity and jobs for all communities in Oregon?

Sonnleitner: We must expand upon the success of PCC’s 25 College-Technical-Education (CTE) programs, devote “margin” budget money to promoting STREAM connections between PCC and area High Schools, and build better partnerships with businesses (as well as unions like IBEW) to maximize use of existing resources and training facilities. Cooperative-Education (Internship) opportunities, which I have been involved with in relation to public service, could also be dramatically expanded at very little financial cost.

It is important to remember that the more expensive CTE Programs at Portland Community College are heavily subsidized by less capital-intensive Lower Division Transfer (LDC) courses which account for over half of student enrollment at PCC. LDC offerings include courses like “China & Its Neighbors”, “India & Its Neighbors”, and “Globalization & International Relations” which I have created to enhance PCC Focus Awards in Chinese Studies, International Studies, and Asian Studies. Such courses help prepare students with critical thinking, multicultural, and other skills needed by graduates who can expect to change career paths in their lifetime.

Yap: The policies that I support that strengthen economic opportunity, access and jobs include:

-Support of the next iteration of the Driver’s Card initiative. I believe that the last version of the ballot had strong community support and and that a refined version will come forward soon. This initiative will a strong force in providing economic opportunity and job access for many of our communities in Oregon.

-Support the development of culturally-focused, place based community economic development, such as the Jade International District. This opportunity with the Portland Development Commission has great promise to catalyze the strength in the diverse businesses in central east Portland along southeast 82nd Avenue.

– We can build resiliency by diversifying our economy by developing business incubators, micro-enterprise opportunities, exploring partnerships with small businesses for career technical education,  entrepreneurship training and mentoring.


Read more candidate responses here.