Former lawmaker Akasha Lawrence Spence is vying for appointment to seat in state Senate. The seat is currently held by longtime lawmaker Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who is vacating it at the end of the 2021 session.

Former lawmaker Akasha Lawrence Spence is vying for appointment to seat in state Senate. The seat is currently held by longtime lawmaker Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who is vacating it at the end of the 2021 session.

Akasha Lawrence Spence / submitted

Commissioners representing Multnomah and Washington counties voted unanimously Monday to appoint former state Rep. Akasha Lawrence-Spence as the state senator representing Oregon’s 18th District, which includes Southwest Portland and Tigard.

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Lawrence-Spence will fill the vacancy left by six-term incumbent Sen. Ginny Burdick, who resigned her seat earlier this year after being appointed by Gov. Kate Brown to serve on the Pacific Northwest Electric Power and Conservation Planning Council.

Lawrence-Spence said she’s grateful to get the nod to bring her leadership and ideas back to Salem at a time of immense challenges for Oregonians and their elected leaders.

“People are facing housing insecurity, food insecurity and just a host of inequities that come with underfunding social services for decades,” she said. “This mandate I’ve received from Senate District 18 is about solving these problems, and crafting solutions that make Oregon a place that we want to live and ensure that everyone can thrive.”

Lawrence-Spence said one of the most pressing questions currently facing the legislature is whether to hold a special session to address the state’s ailing rent assistance program. Tenant advocates estimate that nearly 13,000 households are at risk of eviction as the state works to clear a massive backlog of applications for assistance.

She said she views this as an opportunity to overhaul the system in a way that responds to modern challenges.

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“For me it’s about creating transformational change and doing it with urgency,” she said.

Lawrence-Spence is the owner of Fifth Element, a real estate development firm that specializes in helping women of color business owners purchase commercial real estate.

She was previously appointed as the representative for House District 36 and served during the 2020 short session and three subsequent special sessions after former House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson stepped down to run for secretary of state.

The panel of county commissioners didn’t take long to confirm the appointment after taking public testimony, asking some questions and voting to approve the designation in under an hour. The two other candidates put forth by the Oregon Democratic Party — Sarah Lemley, a healthcare administrator; and Martin Mendelson, a physician — notified the panel prior to the meeting that they were stepping aside.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who served in the legislature from 2013 to 2017, lauded the work Lawrence-Spence was able to complete during her short time as an appointed lawmaker, such as working to convince her colleagues to pass the Oregon Cares Fund, a $62 million grant program to help bolster Black-owned businesses.

“The work that you’ve done on housing, the work that you’ve done on racial justice, in the limited time you were in the legislature, has just been incredible,” Vega Pederson said. “You’ve been a role model and champion for so many people, and I know you’ll bring exactly that to your role in the Senate.”

Lawrence-Spence will take her oath of office in the coming weeks and serve the remaining first half of Burdick’s four-year term until voters select a permanent replacement next year. She will not run for the new Senate District 18, which includes parts of Aloha, Beaverton and South Hillsboro under new district lines that take effect next year. Instead, she announced recently that she will take on Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan.

Current House District 28 incumbent Rep. Wlnsvey Campos has announced her candidacy to run for the Senate seat in 2022.

Commissioners for Clackamas County did not show up to Monday’s virtual meeting despite a sliver of District 18 covering the unincorporated Southwood Park neighborhood in the county’s most northwestern corner.

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