Akasha Lawrence Spence of Portland will be a state senator for about one year, after having been a state representative for just under one year.
Commissioners from Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties voted Monday, Nov. 29, for Lawrence Spence to succeed Democrat Ginny Burdick of Portland, who resigned Nov. 1 after 25 years to accept an appointment as one of Oregon's two members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
Under state law, Burdick's replacement also had to be a Democrat.
Lawrence Spence will serve in the 2022 session, which starts Feb. 1 and will last 35 days.
Senate District 18, before the 2021 redistricting, extended from Southwest Portland into Tigard and parts of Washington and Clackamas counties. Redistricting has broken up that district, which was absorbed by parts of four other Senate districts. But the appointee had to come from within the current district, which will officially disappear when the new legislative redistricting lines take effect Jan. 1.
"Trust that I will continue to boldly push forward on the life-changing policy that will uplift our community, our district and all Oregonians," Lawrence Spence said in a statement after the vote.
The redrawn Senate District 18 is entirely within Washington County. Voters will choose a new senator in the 2022 election for the two years remaining in Burdick's term, and whoever is elected will have to establish residency within the new district. Members elected in 2022 start their terms on Jan. 9, 2023.
The commissioners acted after they interviewed Lawrence Spence — a real estate developer who has already announced she will challenge Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan in the May 19 primary — and two others. They were Sarah Lemley, executive director of the Northwest PANDAS/PANS Network, an advocacy group for children with an infection-induced autoimmune disease, and Martin Mendelson, a family physician at Oregon Health & Science University.
Lawrence Spence, who turned 33 in November, spent the better part of 2020 as the appointed replacement for Democratic Rep. Jennifer Williamson in House District 36. Williamson resigned early in a bid for Oregon secretary of state, but she dropped her campaign before the filing deadline.
In choosing Lawrence Spence for the House vacancy, Multnomah County commissioners made it clear they sought an appointee who would not run for the seat in 2020. Democrat Lisa Reynolds, a physician from Portland, was elected. (She will run in 2022 from a House district in Washington County.)
In choosing any of the three candidates for the Senate vacancy, commissioners from the three counties were clear that the appointee would serve only through the 2022 election.
Lawrence Spence is the founder and principal designer of Fifth Element, a development firm that helps small businesses own real estate. It works primarily with women of color who are establishing their own businesses.
She was an advocate for the Oregon Cares Fund, whose primary purpose for its $62 million from federal funds was to help Black people and businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn. The fund survived a legal challenge to it in U.S. District Court.
"As a state representative, Senator-designate Lawrence Spence proved very effective for her constituents and for Oregon during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic," Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego said in a statement. "We are all very fortunate for her return to public service and I look forward to working with her on important issues in 2022."
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