The Board of County Commissioners selected Akasha Lawrence-Spence as the District 36 State Representative at a Jan. 16 public hearing. Commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Lawrence-Spence to fill the term left by former State Rep. Jennifer Williamson, who left her seat in December 2019 to run for secretary of state.
Lawrence-Spence is the founder and principal designer of Fifth Element, a real estate development firm. She also serves on the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.
The position in District 36 serves most of west Portland. The process for appointing a replacement for a state legislator is for the former legislator’s political party to nominate three to five candidates that county commissioners select from. The Multnomah Democrats held a meeting on Jan. 12 to select the five candidates:
“This appointment process is always challenging,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, whose district includes House District 36. “I just feel we have an abundance of riches in our county and all the appointment processes we’ve gone through. This one is really unique.”
At Thursday’s hearing, candidates made opening statements and answered questions from county commissioners. A public comment period was held before commissioners voted to select the District 36 replacement at the meeting. Oregon Sen. Lew Frederick and former Gov. Barbara Roberts were among the local leaders who submitted testimony.
Earlier this month, Chair Deborah Kafoury voiced support for a nominee who would only serve during the short session, so none would be considered an incumbent when voters choose a long-term replacement in May. Lawrence-Spence was one of two nominees who hadn’t filed for May’s Democratic Primary.
Lawrence-Spence said she plans to prioritize marginalized communities while serving in the legislature. “A vote for me is a vote for the marginalized, for the underrepresented, a vote for the future,” Lawrence-Spence said.
Commissioners unanimously support Lawrence-Spence
Commissioners praised Lawrence-Spence for reflecting the County’s priorities and bringing an important perspective as one of two African-American women in the House.
“I’m going to cast my vote for Akasha,” said Chair Kafoury, who represented Oregon House District 46 from 1999 to 2005. “I appreciate getting to know you, getting to meet you, and I look forward to getting to working with you during this short session.”
“We are in a time where we need fresh perspectives, new diversity,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, “and I am excited and enthusiastic about the work that you’ve done, the direct experiences you have with underrepresented voices, with the fresh perspective you bring.”
“I really appreciated the intimacy with the issues, the real life experience, the perspective,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, a former House District 46 representative between 2013 and 2017. “The way that she was really able to tell stories about how she had experience with different areas and different issues and the real life work that needs to be done. She has a bright future.”
“She understands the challenges that are particular to my district,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann. “She has a similar ideology, especially from a small business background, that I can identify with as well, and I think she will do a tremendous job.”
Lawrence-Spence will serve through 2020. A May 2020 primary election will be held for the 2021-2022 term for District 36.