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Party leaders chose to nominate three political newcomers to succeed Betsy Johnson in the Oregon Senate.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Columbia County commissioners, pictured at a July 2021 meeting, will be part of the group that selects a new state senator.Democratic Party leaders in Senate District 16 have submitted a trio of candidates for appointment.

A Columbia County spokesperson announced Tuesday, Jan. 4, that Columbia County commissioners — along with commissioners in the five other counties of which SD 16 includes parts — will be choosing between Rachel Armitage, Melissa Busch and Nadia Gardner to become the district's new state senator.

All three candidates are political newcomers.

Armitage is a former legislative aide who now works at Reed College in Portland. She also chairs the Womxn's Caucus for the Democratic Party of Oregon. She lives in Warren.

Busch was the first Democrat to announce she would run for SD 16 after then-Sen. Betsy Johnson said in October she would run for governor instead of re-election to the Senate. A home health nurse, she also resides in Warren.

Gardner is a conservation consultant who lives in Arch Cape. She currently chairs Clatsop County's planning commission, representing the southwest coastal part of the county.

County commissioners need to appoint a senator to fill out the remainder of Johnson's term. Johnson resigned in December, saying she wanted to focus on running for governor and that the district deserves a full-time senator.

Other Democrats had publicly expressed interest in the appointment, including former state Rep. Deborah Boone of Hamlet and educator Robby Backus of Scappoose. While Democratic Party precinct committee people could have nominated up to five candidates for the appointment, they chose to nominate the minimum three for county commissioners to consider.

SD 16 is a sprawling district that takes in all of Columbia County and Clatsop County, as well as parts of Multnomah, Tillamook and Washington counties, plus a tiny piece of Yamhill County in the Gaston area. Johnson represented the district from 2005 to 2021.

While Johnson has left the Democratic Party, since she was last elected in 2018 as a registered Democrat, state law requires that county commissioners name a Democrat to replace her in the Senate.

The appointed senator will serve out the remainder of Johnson's term. A new senator will be elected in November in what will likely be a competitive election, as the district is considered a battleground.

On the Republican side, state Rep. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, also announced in October that she will run for the Senate seat this year.

Commissioners from the six counties included in SD 16 will meet virtually at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 14, to interview the Democratic Party's nominees and select a new senator.

Columbia County commissioners are soliciting public input on their selection. Anyone who wishes to provide written comments about any of the nominees can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by noon Wednesday, Jan. 12, to have their input considered.

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