District 24, which includes the area between 82nd Avenue and Gresham and follows I-205 south to Happy Valley, has quickly become one of Oregon’s most diverse districts. As historically diverse corners of inner Portland are hit with skyrocketing rents and mortgages (looking at you, Albina), many longtime Portlanders have had to move east, where housing costs are slightly more tolerable. That’s shaken up the region’s demographics: As of 2018, roughly 25 percent of District 24’s population was born outside of the United States. Fifteen percent of the district identify as Hispanic. Five percent identify as Black. Students who attend the community’s David Douglas School District speak over 70 different languages. Take a peek at census data and you’ll see the district’s residents grow less and less white the younger they get—promising a future of increasing racial diversity.
But this migration east has created its own housing crisis, setting landlords against tenants and newcomers against longtime residents—and leaving many without stable, permanent homes. Affordable housing has easily become the focal point of this senate race.
That’s why we believe Kayse Jama, a Somali refugee who moved his family into District 24 after being priced out of North Portland, can best guide this region to a better future. But, we’re not only endorsing him because his story reflects the district’s population.
For years, Jama has been hustling for his would-be constituents as the director of Unite Oregon, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants, refugees, people of color, and low-income Oregonians at both local and national levels. He’s led career and leadership trainings for first-generation immigrants and refugees, and rallied at the state legislature for economic equality.
Most notably, last year Jama lobbied for Oregon House Bill 2004—a bill that would have killed a state preemption on rent control and limited landlords’ ability to issue no-cause evictions. It’s a measure that District 24 incumbent Senator Rod Monroe, himself a landlord, is credited with derailing. In the Mercury’s endorsement interview with Monroe, who has been backed by some of the state’s top real estate barons, he maintained his wholehearted support of no-cause evictions and his continuing opposition to rent control.
It’s one of the main reasons we believe Monroe is the weakest candidate in this three-person race. While Monroe may have adequately represented the progressive heart of District 24 for the past 12 years, he’s no longer able to speak for a district in desperate need of affordable, stable housing.
Jama also puts forth plans to strengthen state laws involving hate crimes and has called for a statewide ban on assault weapons. He stressed the importance of listening to constituents who have different lived experiences than his own, like members of the homeless community and undocumented immigrants.
“I want to take the voices of my community along with me to Salem,” Jama told us. “I’m a community-based leader, not a politician. And it’s time for more of us to run for office.”
That said, we won’t be upset if you decide to vote for the third candidate in the race, Shemia Fagan. Fagan is an impassioned employment lawyer and former state representative, and she has a solid history of fighting for underrepresented Oregonians both in the courtroom and at the capitol. She was also a vocal supporter of House Bill 2004, and deftly dismantled Monroe’s anti-tenant arguments during our interview.
This endorsement was one of the more difficult decisions we had to make. But—keeping in mind Fagan’s repeated statement that “representation matters”—we’re going with Jama, the candidate that best represents the evolving district. Your vote for either Jama or Fagan will send a strong message to Salem that current renter protections aren’t working—and help tip Oregon’s white male-dominated Senate in a more equitable direction.