In Short

Northwest Oregon gets two new state senators

By: - January 14, 2022 4:39 pm

Janeen Sollman/Sollman campaign

A former legislative aide and a current state representative will join the Oregon Senate ahead of the February legislative session.

In two separate meetings Friday, county commissioners picked Rachel Armitage, a Democrat from Warren, and state Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, to fill the vacancies left by the resignations of  Sens. Betsy Johnson and Chuck Riley in two adjacent northwest Oregon districts. 

Rachel Armitage/Campaign photo

Commissioners from the six counties included in Senate District 16 said Armitage’s experience as a legislative assistant for Rep. Susan McLain, D-Forest Grove, in 2016 and then-Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, in 2017 showed she would be able to represent the area in the legislative session that begins in a few weeks. 

“You deserve a legislator who will partner with you ensuring that much needed funding and support makes its way to you,” Armitage told commissioners. “It would be an honor to fill that need and continue this district’s legacy of independent and effective leadership in Salem.”

She will hold the seat temporarily until next January and won’t seek election to a full term, which several commissioners described as a point in her favor. When Johnson resigned in December to focus on her campaign for governor, she urged commissioners to pick a replacement who wasn’t going to run for office. 

Democratic precinct committee persons in the district disagreed, and the overwhelming majority voted for Melissa Busch, a nurse running for the seat. They had to nominate at least three candidates to county commissioners in Clatsop, Columbia, Multnomah, Tillamook, Washington and Yamhill counties. 

Commissioners also considered Nadia Gardner, a conservation consultant from unincorporated Clatsop County. Gardner urged them to support Busch instead.

In the end, 14 commissioners voted for Armitage, nine for Busch and one for Gardner. Commissioners’ votes were weighted differently depending on the size of the board and how much of the district’s population fell within the county, and Armitage had 87 weighted votes compared to 16 for Busch and six for Gardner.

Later on Friday, the Washington County Commission voted 4-1 to appoint Sollman to finish the term of Riley, a Hillsboro Democrat who retired Dec. 31. 

Washington County Commission Chair Kathryn Harrington said she followed the lead of precinct committee persons in both appointment choices before the county Friday. Sollman, who has served in the House since 2017, received about 85% of the vote from local Democratic precinct committee persons.

Commissioners also considered education lobbyist Lamar Wise and Hillsboro City Councilor Anthony Martin. Commissioner Nafisa Fai, who voted for Wise, said she wanted to appoint a person of color because non-white people make up 35% of the county’s population. Wise is Black. 

“For me it boiled down to two competing priorities, increasing the number of women in the Senate, or increasing the number of legislators from communities of color,” she said. “Out of all the legislators elected to represent our Washington County residents, only one is a person of color.” 

Sollman’s appointment will create yet another vacancy in the Legislature, which has already lost nearly a dozen lawmakers mid-term to new jobs, political ambitions, out-of-state moves and scandals. That includes replacing House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who is resigning effective Jan. 21 to focus on her campaign for governor.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.