Democrats eye vacant seat in Oregon Senate

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
Nov. 11, 2020 2 p.m. Updated: Nov. 11, 2020 6:13 p.m.

Elections aren’t over yet; several hopeful Democrats hope to fill Sen. Shemia Fagan’s seat

The youngest member of the Oregon Senate’s Democratic caucus will resign effective Dec. 1 to ready herself for the move to a new office on the first floor of the state Capitol.

Sen. Shemia Fagan, of Portland, defeated Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, for the Secretary of State post. By staying in the role until the end of November, Fagan could still participate in a possible special legislative session that at one point was being considered for this month.


“I am proud of what Oregon has accomplished during my time in the legislature — paid sick leave for Oregon workers, raising the minimum wage, housing stability, and historic investments in early childhood education and our schools,” Fagan said in a statement.

While serving in the upper chamber, Fagan carved out a reputation as someone set on pushing the more moderate Senate to the left. Fagan was elected in a rare challenge against a moderate, longtime incumbent in the 2018 Democratic primary. And on the first day of the 2019 session, she cast a practically unheard of vote against reelecting Sen. President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, to his ninth term as Senate president.

Fagan frequently mentions her impoverished childhood as a way of explaining her passion for housing issues. She served as chair of the Senate’s housing committee.

A handful of Democrats have already expressed interest in serving the remaining two years of Fagan’s term.

The Democratic Party of Oregon will vet all the interested candidates to ensure they have been a Democrat living in Senate District 24 for at least six months. Precinct committee members from Clackamas and Multnomah counties will narrow down the list of candidates to either three, four or five individuals. Finally, Multnomah and Clackamas County commissioners will vote on Fagan’s replacement. The entire process is set to take place within a 30-day window, which starts once Fagan’s resignation is effective.

Here are some of the candidates who have expressed interest in the job.

Kayse Jama


Jama is a Somali immigrant who fled his war-torn country and became a community organizer and executive director of Unite Oregon. Jama, 46, ran against Fagan in the 2018 Democratic primary. He noted the district is one of the more diverse in the state.

“We are facing really urgent issues, from housing issues to COVID-19. All of these issues have highlighted the importance of bringing my own personal experience as a refugee, an immigrant, as a person of color, a Black man in Oregon to make sure we are at the table and … our state reflects the diversity of community in terms of leadership,” Jama said.

Candy Emmons

Emmons is currently the operations director at the Democratic Party of Oregon. If chosen, Emmons, like Fagan before her, would be the state’s youngest senator. Emmons is 31 and grew up in a trailer park in Salem. She has long been engaged in Oregon politics. She believes she brings a perspective and life experience that is sorely needed in the state Senate.

“There are amazing leaders in Salem, I’ve worked hard to elect a lot of them,” Emmons said. “But I know it’s been a long time since they have lived paycheck-to-paycheck and had to worry about predatory landlords.”

Adrienne Enghouse

Enghouse is a registered nurse with Kaiser Sunnyside and the former president of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals union. Enghouse, 54, is a single mother of three boys who put herself through community college and has lived in the district for more than 20 years. She has lobbied both in Salem and Washington, D.C. on health care issues.

“The issues facing our state are conducive to my wheelhouse,” she said. "We need to recover from COVID. We have health care issues that have been highlighted by COVID and when a nurse looks at a community, we look at what is wrong with it and what it needs to be healthy. "

Jeff Reardon

Reardon is currently a state lawmaker in the House. Reardon, 73, was recently elected to his fifth term in the House. He said his time serving in the statehouse has prepared him for the role. Reardon is the co-chair of the Joint Interim Committee On Ways and Means Subcommittee On Natural Resources in the House and a vice-chair of the House Interim Committee on Water.

“My greatest concern is we are facing the biggest challenge ever in this state, with the pandemic, economic conditions, the wildfire crisis and I could go on," he said. “These things we are going to be facing with less funding available and I think it’s important to have someone with experience."

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify that Shemia Fagan is the youngest member of the Oregon Senate’s Democratic caucus. OPB regrets the error.