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.

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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.”

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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.

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