In Short

Portland Democrat Akasha Lawrence Spence tapped as new Oregon state senator

By: - November 29, 2021 2:09 pm

Akasha Lawrence Spence speaks on her swearing-in day following her January 2020 appointment to the Oregon House. Lawrence Spence won a new appointment to the Senate on Nov. 29, 2021. (Oregon House Democrats)

Portland real estate developer Akasha Lawrence Spence will soon be able to list a rare accomplishment on her résumé: serving in both Oregon legislative chambers without ever winning election. 

County commissioners in Multnomah and Washington counties voted unanimously on Monday to appoint Lawrence Spence to the state Senate vacated last month when Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland resigned to take a paid seat on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. 

“I look forward to working with all of my constituents, continuing this work and getting things done for us,” Lawrence Spence said after the vote. “This is truly lifesaving work and I’m honored to be able to have this appointment, and I will go forward and continue to do this hard work.” 

Lawrence Spence, a Democrat, served in the state House through most of 2020 after she was appointed to replace Democratic Rep. Jennifer Williamson, who resigned to run for secretary of state. She owns a Portland-based real estate firm, Fifth Element. 

After Burdick resigned, Democratic precinct committee persons forwarded Lawrence Spence and two other candidates, family physician Martin Mendelson and health care administrator Sarah Lemley, to the commissioners. Mendelson and Lemley both withdrew from consideration ahead of the meeting. 

Multnomah County commissioners who previously supported Lawrence Spence in her bid for the state House said she demonstrated in 2020 that she could accomplish a great deal in a short time. They also referred to her background as a point in her favor – Lawrence Spence will be the only Black woman in the Senate and one of three in the Legislature. 

Lawrence Spence won’t seek re-election to the Senate, as the district changed dramatically after redistricting. Instead, she’s running for Portland City Council, challenging Commissioner Dan Ryan, a more moderate Democrat. 

Burdick was re-elected to a four-year term in 2020. Lawrence Spence will serve until January 2023, and another candidate must run for election in the redrawn Senate District 18 next year to finish the final two years.

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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.