The Multnomah County and Clackamas County Board of Commissioners selected Kayse Jama, a former refugee and community organizer, to replace Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan representing Oregon Senate District 24 in the Legislative Assembly.
In a joint session held online, commissioners chose among three candidates nominated by the local Democratic Party including Jama, Candy Emmons, the operations manager for the Democratic Party of Oregon and Adrienne Enghouse, a nurse and union leader.
Jama, 46, is the co-founder and Executive Director of Unite Oregon--a Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)-led nonprofit aimed at achieving justice for immigrants and refugees, rural communities, and people experiencing poverty. He becomes the first former refugee and the first Muslim serving in the Oregon Senate.
“As a refugee, democracy is important to me,” Jama said. “This country, right now, needs collaboration. We need to come together as a community.”
Jama fled to the United States to escape civil war in Somalia. In 2003, he co-founded the Center for Intercultural Organizing (now Unite Oregon) with the aim of uplifting marginalized Oregonians. Today, the non profit represents more than 13,000 supporters and members across Oregon.
“My 20-plus years of working with the community has been making sure that people who are downside of power be at the table,” Jama said. “I want to bring those communities and those experiences and those voices with me.”
As the incoming chair of the Senate Housing Committee, Jama pledged to elevate the voices of historically marginalized communities and unite people on all ends of the political spectrum. COVID-19 has exacerbated inequity, he said, pledging to advocate for livable wages, housing affordability, and equity.
Senate District 24 sits on the Multnomah-Clackamas border with nearly 75 percent of Senate District 24 residents living in Multnomah County. Among the 10 members of the Multnomah and Clackamas County boards, the Multnomah County commissioners’ votes were weighted roughly three to one. All 10 commissioners ultimately voted for Jama, while noting the qualifications of Emmons and Enghouse.
Commissioners praised Jama for his ability to bring people together, along with his commitment to housing issues, education, criminal reform, economic justice.
“I do believe that now, more than ever, we need leaders that have the ability to bring people together and I think Kayse is that person and will do a terrific job,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said.
“You are one of the most thoughtful, dedicated, inclusive organizers, leaders and just people that I have come across,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran told Jama. “Your commitment to racial equity, community safety, environmental justice, housing stability, economic opportunity and quality education are just clear and evidenced in your life’s work.”
“I think that your voice is definitely needed, Kayse, and I have seen you in action in my part of the county,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “As an immigrant myself, I understand the means and the disparities that exist, and especially during the pandemic. We know that there are so many disparities for newcomers to our county and our state and our country.”
“The role that you have had in leading on immigrant and refugee issues, the way you’ve
been leading on issues that are important to the working families in District 24, and the roles you have had as a district leader in our Democratic party here have been really powerful.,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. “Today I am proud to support Kayse Jama for Senate District 24.”
“We’ve seen what the pandemic has exposed in our social safety net, we’ve responded to the uprising for racial justice, and we’ve seen the fact that it’s like a blindfold has been taken off of our communities,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “We’ve seen what we need to do coming out of it, and the kind of leadership that calls for is the leadership that will continue that sense of urgency be stubborn, strategic and collaborative.”