Multnomah County commissioners this month will appoint a person to replace former state Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who resigned in December to run for secretary of state.

Under Oregon law, that person must be at least 21, a Democrat and reside in Williamson’s former Southwest Portland district. But Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury wants to put another qualifier on the appointee: She says the person shouldn’t be interested in the job — not for the long term, that is.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announces a lawsuit against the federal government over Teen Pregnancy Prevention program grant criteria.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announces a lawsuit against the federal government over Teen Pregnancy Prevention program grant criteria.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB

Kafoury has asked the Multnomah County branch of the Democratic Party of Oregon — the group responsible for forwarding three to five qualified nominees to the county board  — to put forward people who have no intention of running for Williamson’s seat in this year’s election.

“I am hopeful that the Multnomah County Democrats will nominate an individual who is well qualified to represent the district, but will not use the appointment process as a springboard to run for election in 2020,” Kafoury wrote to the party on Christmas Eve.

The request could have a big impact on who is ultimately tapped to serve out Williamson’s term. That person will be in office during the legislative “short session” that convenes in February, lasting roughly a month.

Should party officials or her fellow commissioners agree with Kafoury’s approach, Democrats who’ve filed to run for the seat this year would be effectively removed from consideration.

Kafoury wants to eliminates the chance one candidate would be seen as a de facto incumbent when voters cast ballots in the May primary.

“The voters of that district should have an opportunity to meet and judge each of those candidates during the election to choose for themselves,” Kafoury wrote.

House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, signals her vote on the House floor at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, signals her vote on the House floor at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Democrats currently filed for Williamson’s seat are Adam Meyer, an Oregon Department of Forestry employee with a history of working for politicians and advocacy groups; Lisa Reynolds, a physician; and Laurie Wimmer, a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers’ union.

A fourth candidate, Portland State University employee Rob Fullmer, has launched a campaign for the seat but is not listed as having officially filed in state records. 

On Monday, only Reynolds responded to an inquiry about Kafoury’s stance. She confirmed she is hoping to be considered for the appointment.

Multnomah County Democrats did not respond to questions about the nomination process, or whether Kafoury’s request would be taken into account. According to a press release from the county, party leaders plan to meet on Jan. 12 to finalize a list of nominees. The county board of commissioners will meet on Jan. 16 to select Williamson’s replacement.

The notion of appointing a replacement who doesn’t have long-term interest in the office is rare for legislative vacancies, but has come up in other appointments.

One high-profile example occurred last year, when Gov. Kate Brown was charged with replacing Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who died in office.

Brown made clear at the time she would only consider someone who pledged not to seek election to the seat. She ultimately selected Bev Clarno, a former Republican speaker of the House, to replace Richardson.

The Democratic governor had used similar criteria in the past, but some saw a partisan tinge to her decision in Richardson’s case. By appointing someone who would not seek election, Brown ensured that no Republican “incumbent” — even one appointed rather than elected — would vie to defend the seat this year. To date, no Republican has filed for the office.

Williamson’s district, House District 36, has been in Democratic hands since 2001, and Democrats have a 45 percentage point registration advantage there, meaning the winner of the May primary for the Democratic nomination is virtually guaranteed to win the general election in November.

Only one Republican has filed for the seat: Portland business owner and podcaster James Ball.

Williamson’s House seat isn’t the only one awaiting a replacement ahead of the legislative session. In coming weeks, county officials in Eastern Oregon will tap someone to fill the shoes of state Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, who was himself appointed to fill an open state Senate seat.