Multnomah County commissioners unanimously voted to appoint Akasha Lawrence-Spence as their replacement for former state Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who resigned in December to run for Oregon secretary of state. 

Lawrence-Spence will be one of two African American women in the Legislature, joining Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, in the state House. Lawrence-Spence will serve out Williamson’s through December, representing House District 36, a district that encompasses downtown Portland and parts of the city’s west hills.

Lawrence-Spence said that she aims to represent marginalized communities while serving on the commission, and touched on housing the homeless community. While serving out the rest of Williamson’s term, Lawrence-Spence said she will only serve in the interim.

“We do have a vast field full of very qualified and very passionate candidates,” Lawrence-Spence said. “I’m excited to work with any one of you when you are voted through in the primary.”

Commissioners repeatedly stated that while the pool of nominees had “an abundance of riches” to potentially represent the district, they preferred a candidate who pledged not to seek election in the Oregon Democratic primary in May.

Arguments for a “placeholder candidate” were prevalent before selecting Williamson’s replacement, citing the need for voters to choose a candidate for themselves.

Earlier this month, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury called for a nominee to only commit to serving in the short session, eliminating the chance a candidate would be interpreted as a de facto incumbent when voters cast ballots in the primary.

Lawrence-Spence serves on the Planning & Sustainability Commission for the City of Portland. She is also the founder of a real estate development firm and helped establish Melanated, a women of color collective in Portland. 

Other Democrats considered for Williamson’s seat were former legislator Chris Beck; Lisa Reynolds, a physician; Portland State University IT staffer Rob Fullmer; and Laurie Wimmer, a lobbyist for the Oregon Education Association — the statewide teachers’ union.

Some will likely return to the forefront of voters’ minds as they consider to run in the May primary.