Michael Trimble courtesy of the Trimble4Gov Facebook page
The first thing someone might notice about Michael Trimble, one of Oregon’s more unlikely gubernatorial candidates, is not the fact that he lacks arms — or the fact that he is usually wearing a bike helmet as he commutes almost exclusively via a modified bicycle — but his enthusiasm.
Trimble is the odd man out in the Oregon governor race, something he would be the first to own, calling himself a true “grassroots candidate.”
“I’ve always been an advocate, because I was born in an orphanage, and I never met my biological parents,” he began, before elaborating on how that impacted him. “So in an orphanage, you basically learn at a very young age that you have to fend for yourself, and since I had no arms, that just doubled down.”
“And then when I was adopted by Christian evangelical parents who were ‘told by God’ to adopt a boy without arms and a girl who had legs but could not walk, that became my next challenge.” Their beliefs led them to adopt Trimble.
In his words, he “went from the frying pan of the orphanage system in Russia into the fires of Christian evangelicalism.”
Trimble spoke more about the uniqueness of his situation, explaining that while most people within the foster system have been taken out of their biological homes and are seeking adoption, he went to caseworkers seeking protection from abuse within the home.
The abuse, he stated, was widely overlooked due to the family’s religious practices, which seemed to indeed cover a multitude of sins in the state ofPennsylvania.
“Technically, in Pennsylvania, they didn’t consider what was being done to me as child abuse even though all the social workers said, quite frankly, it was unforgivable.”
“We didn’t really get along from day one,” he said of his parents in the states, calling the situation “unfortunate.”
“It was a very stormy relationship,” he concluded. “Some families are just never meant to be, and we were definitely an example. They adopted me with good spirits and good intentions, but the execution was really, really poor.”
While he acknowledged this answer may seem a bit “long winded,” his point was clear: He has been resourceful and independent from a young age.
“I would like to extend that fighting spirit … as governor and fight for those who don’t fight for themselves.”
“I have noticed sadly that a lot of individuals with physical disabilities and challenges don’t advocate for themselves, either because they’re too shy or they’re too afraid. Those with mental or developmental challenges really can’t because they’re not 100% prepared to understand what it is they need to be doing to fight for themselves.”
He believes his situation has given him the advantage of perspective.
“I definitely, even though I’m disabled, I’m not the typical disabled person because I speak my mind and I know how to fight for myself.” He also vowed to fight for what he sees as basic human rights.
“I will fight for Oregonians to make sure that they do have affordable healthcare, they do have affordable housing, and that we finally tackle homelessness once and for all.”
Here, he gave a slight and uncommon pause while speaking, and added, “I know this is something I say as a joke, but I’m honest when I tell you I’ll be the only governor in American history who you will never ever catch sitting on his hands.”
This isn’t the only time Trimble pokes fun at his own physical differences, and he uses humor as a decidedly poignant way to punctuate his promises with his own personality.
Trimble’s independence began as soon as he was emancipated from his adoptive parents, and his fighting spirit has also been tested.
While struggles still existed after leaving his adoptive family, he felt liberated to be himself, even when he lived with an opinionated roommate who insisted both his atheism and homosexual identity were rooted in a lack of exposure to the truth, and “not finding the right woman.”
As he does with most controversial topics even now, the younger Trimble didn’t shy away from expressing himself. While he was able to let these comments slide off his back — addressing them frankly but politely — he never betrayed his own convictions and sense of self.
In 2017, Trimble filed a lawsuit against Kroger regarding wrongful termination and violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Washington Post, he said, picked up the story almost immediately.
“They didn’t offer any accommodations,” he said bluntly of his past workplace.
His employer asked him to push his bike up the stairs to a designated area rather than leaving it outside the first floor.
Of course, this wasn’t possible because, as Trimble himself pointed out, “I don’t have any arms.”
Rather than suggesting a reasonable alternative, the Kroger representatives stuck to their guns, firing Trimble despite a near perfect attendance and performance record.
His attorney, Daniel Snyder, told the Washington Post, “It looked to me like someone at Kroger got it in their head that he needed to do this specific thing with his bike and nothing but doing this exact thing was going to satisfy them.”
That didn’t pan out well for the grocery brand, and Trimble won the lawsuit and — as he pointed out in this interview — refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement concerning details of the case.
His victory fighting a major U.S. corporation strengthened his resolve and purpose, though he looks back and admits, “I wish I had done more” for the disabled community in that process.
By all accounts, what he did was plenty.
Essentially, he turned down the chance to sue for more money in order to attain the rights to speak freely about what transpired. But Trimble is rarely content with a job merely well done, preferring to go the extra mile whenever possible.
He told me that if he could do things over, he would have thrown in additional requirements for staff retention to protect disabled employees who are hired to meet a quota, but then let go shortly after.
Currently, he explained, the federal contracts “don’t stipulate how long these employees have to be employed for.”
Trimble’s passion for gainful employment is clear, and his goals include making employment easier to access and unemployment benefit laws clearer. For instance, “what England did to Uber I will do here in Oregon,” he said via phone. “And I want companies to pay out any accrued paid time off an employee has earned once that employee leaves, whether it’s by termination or resignation or layoff.”
His own disability has never hindered his ability to contribute in the workplace, a fact he which motivates him daily.
“I could easily live off (government disability) and never work a day in my life, but I choose to work because even though I’m disabled, I can still be productive to society,” he said.
He also wants the same sense of purpose for Oregonians.
Another major priority on his agenda is housing.
“There’s no reason why people are paying $1500, $2000, $3000 (for apartment living),” he said of the current apartment prices. “I’ve talked to people who are paying 50, 70, 80 percent of their income for rent. That is not okay.”
“We need to figure out why the rent is so high. I believe that it’s artificially inflated because landlords and property management, all they care about is the bottom dollar, and if they can charge it and people are willing to pay it, then they’re going to do it.”
“So we need to have government step in and say, ‘No, you are no longer able to charge these rents.’ And I’m aware this is very controversial, you know, the government telling private entities what to do, but these private entities have had decades of free reign, very little regulation. It’s a joke.”
He believes capping rental prices at reasonable rates is the only way to keep landlords from holding out for more money while the city proclaims a “housing crisis” with empty rooms.
Furthermore, he added, the government should put time limits on how long a rental unit can stay vacant before prices must be lowered or tenants added against management’s wishes.
Trimble also doesn’t shy away from government-issued vaccine passports, stating that the CDC has not been clear and the majority of people who have been vaccinated have not seen a return to “normal” living.
“The CDC cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, they say the vaccines do protect you, they are working, and 0.004 percent of the vaccinated have died or been hospitalized,” he said, quoting statistics from CDC sources.
“Now, no vaccine is perfect. This vaccine is no exception, and so there are going to be breakthrough cases, but even with the breakthrough cases, a miniscule of people are actually being affected by it.”
He concluded, “So the reason that we’re wearing masks today is because we are protecting those who are unvaccinated — and I’m sorry, but we have three vaccines, they are perfectly good, they are completely free, and if you are unvaccinated, you are unvaccinated by choice.”
He spoke briefly of exceptions, such as children and those with compromised immune systems, but emphasized that most people above the age of twelve have access and opportunities to get vaccinated.
“For the majority of people, I would say 95% of those who are unvaccinated are unvaccinated by choice. I don’t know what they’re listening to, what they’re hearing, what they’re believing.”
Trimble himself admitted to being a late holdout on the vaccine, due to his fear of needles and his hesitance to get the shot until he had seen how the first rounds of shot affected the general population.
But overall, he states the reasons to continue wearing masks when there is a vaccine available are few. The vaccine is either effective or it is not, and he reiterated that the Delta variant’s emergence did not change his mind on that, especially with the availability of booster shots and lack of verifiable data proving mask-wearing states are doing any better now than mask-free states.
The vaccine, he said, was the game changer here — not masks — and vaccine passports for restaurants and other crowded areas could offer greater safety to the public overall.
His open questioning of the CDC’s seemingly conflicting updates, as well as his perspective on masks, set him apart from other Democratic candidates, whom he says may be beholden to lobbyists and party dogma rather than scientific data.
On the topic of science, even though Trimble lost his arms to the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl, he is still an advocate of nuclear energy.
However, one of the main items on his agenda revolves around increasing access to healthcare. Having worked in customer services, speaking on the phone with Oregonians who are frustrated either at losing their coverage or not having the services or medication they need, Trimble has firsthand experience with the Oregon Health Plan and wants it expanded. One obstacle would be providing incentives for billing, as OHP doesn’t pay out as well as many private insurance companies.
“But even at that pay rate, (foreign) doctors would be making much more for a living than they would be overseas,” he said, leading into his solution for the next problem: medical desserts.
“There needs to be a primary clinic in every county in Oregon,” he stated. Currently, in many regions, “there are no clinics, there are no hospitals, there are no emergency rooms for hundreds of miles, and that is completely unacceptable.”
He believes that bringing other providers in from foreign countries could be part of the solution, via some expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, explained best on his website.
I plan to create a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program where we bring in doctors from overseas and give them state residency along with their own clinics to run paying them OHP rates (even at these low rates which I believe can be raised, these doctors will be making so much more compared to their home country not to mention they’ll be living much safer and more fulfilling lives here). Oregon is a sanctuary state and is the perfect state for my DACA Doctors. There should be at a minimum of one clinic in every county in Oregon.
Trimble is already looking into the legal and financial ramifications of this but is hopeful that such a solution could provide several innovations.
“The more diversity we have, the more collaboration we can have, the more medical expertise we as a state can gain.”
All these goals take planning and connections, areas which Trimble is trying to build up with awareness through one of his greatest passions: biking.
Known throughout Portland as the armless biker — and a huge proponent of helmet safety ever since an accident once put him in the hospital — Trimble cycles through the city of Portland hoping to bring attention to his campaign by building authentic relationships.
And despite being “unarmed” as he states, he easily keeps pace with the most experienced bikers in the state.
“I’m Russian,” he added jokingly. “I’m in a rush.”
While he may have Slavic roots, this Oregonian has all-American values when it comes to work ethic and revolution: namely, his belief that even an outlier without years of government experience can make a difference.
While people may point to his lack of government expertise as a flaw, Trimble states that “someone like me now has had more applicable life experience and knows how to advocate and get things done.”
“One of the things you’ll hear about me is that I don’t have any experience,” he said, “and that’s 100% true! I have not been bought, I have not been sold, I have not been jaded, I don’t (rely) on lobbyists … and this is why we’re going to get things done.”
He referenced opponents like Tina Kotek, whom he believes will only do enough to stay in office but will be worried to make any real changes that could sway public opinion before the next election.
Conversely, this biking enthusiast and gubernatorial hopeful asserted there’s no political games or popularity contests weighing him down, just his convictions. In fact, he’s content being a one-term governor if elected, as long as he’s able to push through some major improvements for the state of Oregon.
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.