Lake Oswego's Rob Wagner picked to replace Devlin in state Senate
Lake Oswego School Board member Rob Wagner was appointed Monday to succeed former state Sen. Richard Devlin and represent Senate District 19 for the remainder of Devlin's term.
"Right now, I'm just so appreciative," Wagner said, "not only of the support from the commissioners today but from the entire community for the past three months."
Devlin resigned his seat in January after being appointed to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. His term only runs through the end of the year, but Wagner has said he will seek a full four years in the SD19 seat, beginning with the May primary election. He has also said he intends to remain on the Lake Oswego School Board while serving in Salem.
On Monday afternoon, Senate President Peter Courtney issued a statement welcoming Wagner to the Legislature.
"Rob Wagner is not new to the Capitol. He knows the players. He knows the process. He has the potential to be a star. I am happy to welcome Rob to the Oregon Senate," Courtney said.
Wagner was officially sworn in to office at noon Wednesday in the Senate chambers. The Legislature will convene its 2018 session on Feb. 5.
Wagner, formerly the associate vice-president for advancement at Portland Community College, was elected to the School Board in May. The Lake Oswego High School graduate also formerly served as a director of political and legislative affairs for the American Federation of Teachers (Oregon). At PCC, he oversaw community outreach and the college's nonprofit foundation.
Wagner, 44, has served on the City Club of Portland's Civics Education and Advocacy Committee; the Lake Oswego Citizens Advisory Committee; and Oregon Volunteers. He received a bachelor's degree from Portland State University in political science and a master's degree in public policy at The George Washington University.
Wagner was originally nominated for the appointment by local Democratic Party Precinct Committee Persons at a convention earlier this month, along with two others: Claudia Black and Daphne Wysham. Black lives in Tualatin and is a former policy advisor to then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski, while Wysham is a longtime environmental advocate who lives in West Linn.
Wagner was chosen Monday over Black and Wysham at a joint meeting of the Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah County boards of commissioners, who gathered at Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego to interview the three candidates and vote to choose the winner. The vote was held after nearly three hours of interviews.
During an initial public comment period, Wagner received the largest showing of public support: 17 of the 27 commenters urged the commissioners to select him, and a large portion of the audience wore T-shirts branded with Wagner's campaign logo. Many of the commenters said they knew Wagner through his work at PCC, and praised him as a champion for education.
Most of the commissioners' interview questions were fairly broad, asking the candidates how they would address the ongoing issues of mental health care, transportation and housing, with a particular emphasis given to housing and related topics such as tenants' rights and homelessness.
Wagner pointed to a lack of funding and resources as one of the key drivers of both homelessness and untreated mental health issues. He called for the state to ensure that workers have housing close to where they work and close to public transit, and he said he would emphasize the importance of equity and diversity when looking at legislation.
"I'm passionate about using an equity lens on determining our budget priorities," he said.
Black discussed her previous work for Multnomah County and said that legislative solutions to housing and mental health issues would need to allow counties and other local governing bodies to play a role. She also called for a constitutional amendment to ensure access to affordable housing, and said she would fight for an expansion of I-205 that is intended to resolve bottlenecks.
"You bet I would (fight for it)," she said in response to a question from Clackamas County Commissioner Ken Humberston. "That's a very high priority."
Wysham called for greater tenant protections to address housing and homelessness issues, and she pointed to state budget issues as the biggest challenge faced by the Portland metro region. She also said Oregon had fallen behind on environmental protection efforts, particularly by exempting the timber industry from too many regulations.
"It's my passion to protect the environment," she said, "especially the Pacific Northwest environment."
Nearly every commissioner described the vote as an incredibly difficult choice and offered strong praise for all three candidates. Wagner and Black were both lauded for their work experience in the Legislature, and commissioners commended Wysham's work as an environmental advocate.
"This is the most qualified group we've had yet," said Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. "This is truly a gut-wrenching kind of decision we have to make."
All three counties include different-size portions of SD19, so the commissioners' votes were weighted based on the total number of voters in their county's part of the district. Clackamas County commissioners received 11 votes each, Multnomah County commissioners received 4.4 votes each and Washington County commissioners got 3.6 votes each.
Every commissioner voted for Wagner or Black; Wagner received 60 total votes from eight commissioners, while Black received 31.4 votes from six commissioners, including a majority of the Multnomah County commissioners. A majority of Wagner's votes came from four of the five Clackamas County commissioners, with only Sonya Fischer voting for Black.