A campaign photo from Kayse Jamas 2018 run.
A campaign photo from Kayse Jama's 2018 run.

Residents of East Portland have a new representative in the Oregon Senate.

Kayse Jama, the executive director of immigrant and refugee advocacy nonprofit Unite Oregon, was appointed Wednesday to fill the seat for Oregon Senate District 24. The seat was vacated by Shemia Fagan after her November election to the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

District 24 covers much of the area between 82nd Avenue and Gresham in East Portland, as well as a small corner of Clackamas County. The Boards of Commissioners for both Multnomah and Clackamas Counties were tasked with filling the vacant senate seat—and at a joint board meeting Wednesday, members of both boards unanimously voted for Jama over two opponents also seeking the appointment.

“I’ve spent many, many years making sure our communities are represented,” said Jama, who came to Oregon from Somalia and has lived in District 24 for over 20 years, at the joint board meeting. He added that his priorities include “climate justice, racial justice, and reproductive rights.”

About a quarter of District 24’s population was born outside of the United States, and students who attend the district’s David Douglas Elementary School speak over 70 languages. In casting their votes for Jama, several board members remarked that they wanted to give the district a senator who would represent its diverse population. Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said she was supporting Jama because he had clear community support, and that the COVID-19 pandemic is “a time that calls for visionary leadership, and representative leadership.”

Jama first sought the District 24 senate seat in 2018, when he ran in the Democratic primary against Fagan and incumbent Rod Monroe. Fagan won that race and went on to win the general election.

The Mercury endorsed Jama in that 2018 primary—from our endorsement at the time:

“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.”

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The appointment was also sought by Adrienne Enghouse, a nurse and union leader, and Candy Emmons, operations director with the Democratic Party of Oregon. Commissioners cast their votes Wednesday after posing several questions to the candidates about housing, transportation, and the COVID-19 pandemic response."

After commissioners voted to appoint Jama at the virtual meeting, they unmuted their computer microphones to applaud the appointment.

“For me, one of the things I bring to the table is the commitment to equity, inclusion, and justice,” Jama told the commissioners. “I’m grateful for all your support, and I will continue to be inspired by the people of District 24, and the people of Oregon.”