State Rep. Ann Lininger's surprise appointment to a judgeship on the Clackamas County Circuit Court last week has sparked interest in the process for naming her replacement and touched off immediate speculation about who might take her seat in House District 38 — even though a decision is still a couple of months away.
Among the names being mentioned as a possible successor: longtime political consultant Andrea Salinas, a Lake Oswego resident who has worked on environmental, health and labor issues at the state and national level; Neil Simon, a partner at Bighorn Communications whose recent work includes advising Ted Wheeler during his campaign for mayor of Portland; and Lake Oswego City Councilors Joe Buck and Theresa Kohlhoff, who both told The Review this week that they're interested in the job.
"Rep. Lininger leaves large shoes to fill," Buck said, "but I am of and for our district, with experience collaborating on the ground to make our community a place where everyone who lives and works here can succeed and live healthy, dignified lives. I would be honored to represent our shared values of social justice, equity and respect for all, and bring my experience as a city councilor, small business owner, veteran and lifelong member of this community to Salem."
Gov. Kate Brown announced Lininger's appointment in a late-afternoon news release on July 11, and Lininger confirmed it a few hours later in a post to her Facebook followers. She told The Review this week that she only learned about the appointment the night before, when she received a phone call from Brown.
"I was delighted," she said. "As an attorney for Metropolitan Public Defender, Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and private businesses, I have focused my career on protecting the rights of vulnerable people. As a judge, I will be able to continue that work by making sure our justice system treats people fairly, impartially and with dignity."
The news came just four days after the end of the 2017 Legislative session, and while Lininger said she has enjoyed shaping policy in Salem, she now is "excited to work on the front lines of the justice system."
"In my new role," she said, "I will be able to work directly with individuals in court to make sure they receive fair treatment."
A familiar process
A former Clackamas County commissioner, Lininger herself was initially appointed to the HD 38 seat — which represents all of Lake Oswego and large parts of Southwest Portland — in 2014 after the departure of Rep. Chris Garrett. She was elected without opposition later that year, and defeated Republican challenger Patrick De Klotz by a wide margin in the 2016 election.
Now, the remainder of her current two-year term in Salem will be served by another appointed representative.
State law requires the vacancy to be filled within 30 days of Lininger's departure, but she told The Review on Monday that she isn't planning to officially resign until sometime in August, and she won't take office as a judge until after that happens.
Once Lininger does leave the Legislature, though, a new representative will be appointed by a joint vote of the Multnomah and Clackamas County Boards of Commissioners. House District 38 sits along the dividing line between the two counties, with roughly half of the district located on each side.
The commissioners' voting power is calculated using a formula based on the number of registered voters in each county within the district. As of Tuesday, there were 27,064 voters in the Clackamas portion of HD 38 and 22,356 voters in the Multnomah portion, which means the Clackamas commissioners will carry a bit more weight when the votes for Lininger's successor are counted.
The candidates they'll consider will all be Democrats, because state law requires that legislators appointed to fill a partial term must come from the same political party as their predecessor. The process of compiling a list of 3-5 finalists will be handled by state Democratic Party leaders and by Precinct Committee Persons (PCPs) in both counties.
According to Clackamas Democrats Chair Peter Nordbye, party officials have already begun preliminary meetings with people who have expressed an interest in seeking the seat. But there are no formal applicants yet, he said, because applications can't be turned in until Lininger officially leaves office.
"Until Rep. Lininger resigns, everything is just checking in, that kind of thing," Nordbye said. "By law, we don't officially receive applications until there's been a resignation."
Instead, the meetings are focused on getting to know the interested people and learning about what they hope to accomplish as a state representative. Nordbye said party officials will also make sure applicants know that the job tends to require a certain amount of political experience.
"This is a true political race, and I think someone needs some knowledge of campaigning to be successful," he said. "So we try to at least have that discussion with people. But getting to know them and hearing their story is an important thing."
Any district resident who is at least 21 years old and has resided in HD 38 for at least a year is eligible to serve, although in this case the candidates will also need to be Democratic Party members.
Nordbye told The Review on Tuesday that Clackamas party officials have spoken to five interested individuals so far, and at least one person has also come forward in Multnomah County. Lake Oswego's Buck and Kohlhoff are among the five from Clackamas County.
"Many of our state issues require extraordinary attention," Kohlhoff told The Review this week, "especially now as the national government is pulling away from financial assistance to our state and, worse, actively degrading the health and economic position of the majority of all Americans, to say nothing of the environment. I remain a strong fighter for the little guy, with much experience to give."
Chosen in phases
Once Lininger resigns, the official process of picking a successor will begin.
"There's two phases," Nordbye said. "The first phase is 20 days for the two counties and the Democratic Party of Oregon to get together and set up an election among the House District 38 Precinct Committee Persons."
That election will take the form of a meeting where all the PCPs gather and vote for their preferred candidates. The PCP votes will also be weighted to account for Clackamas County's larger voting population within the district.
The exact format of the meeting is still being determined, and Nordbye said party leaders have some flexibility to organize it as they see fit within a broader set of parameters outlined by state law.
During the process that ultimately led to Lininger's appointment in 2014, Nordbye said, the event was formatted as a moderated town hall, with applicants answering questions from the audience of PCPs. He expects a similar format this time around.
"Then there's phase two," Nordbye said. "After we select a delegation of applicants, it goes to the Secretary of State, who has to set up a meeting among the commissioners of Multnomah and Clackamas counties (to choose the final appointee), and that has to be completed within 10 days."
No matter who ends up in the District 38 seat, Lininger says they'll find a constituency eager to engage with them.
"This is a politically diverse community of smart, engaged people," she told The Review. "It is a good place to hear thoughtful opinions on all sides of an issue."
In addition to serving as a Clackamas County commissioner and state rrepresentative, Ann Linger has worked as co-director of the Community Development Law Center and as director of program-related investing at the Meyer Memorial Trust. She also clerked for judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and the U.S. District Court.
The Lake Oswego resident has also worked at Metropolitan Public Defenser Services, practiced business law at Buckley Law P.C. in Lake Oswego and served as general counsel at Oregon Iron Works.
She is a graduate of Yale University and the New York University School of Law.
Looking back on her three-and-a-half years in the legislature, Lininger says her key accomplishments included improving workplace fairness by ensuring equal pay, requiring advanced notice of worker scheduling and preventing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination; expanding economic opportunity, particularly as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation and Chair of the House Committee on Economic Development and Trade; and protecting vulnerable people from abuse and ensuring humane treatment for individuals who suffer from addiction and mental illness.
"I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to represent this wonderful community in the Oregon Legislature," she told The Review.
— Anthony Macuk