Lawrence Spence being sworn in to the Oregon House of Representatives in January 2020.
Lawrence Spence being sworn in to the Oregon House of Representatives in January 2020. Akasha Lawrence Spence

Former state representative Akasha Lawrence Spence has been appointed to serve as Senator for Oregon District 18, which stretches from Downtown Portland to Tigard, spanning Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties. Former Senator Ginny Burdick left the position earlier this month—in the middle of her four-year term—to join a statewide energy council, leaving the seat open for a short-term appointment. Lawrence Spence was appointed by an unanimous vote Monday from commissioners from Multnomah and Washington counties. She ran uncontested for the position.

"We have seen through your actions that you put community first," said Kathryn Harrington, Washington County Chair, at the Monday appointment hearing. "What more could we ask of our servants in these legislative bodies? I am honored to have the opportunity to appoint you to this position today."

This isn't the first time Lawrence Spence has been appointed to serve out the remainder of a state legislator's term in office. In January 2020, Lawrence Spence was appointed by the Multnomah County Commission to replace former state representative Jennifer Williamson, who had resigned the previous month to run for Oregon secretary of state. In the Oregon House, Lawrence Spence pushed for tenant protections, police reform bills, and helped pass the Oregon Cares Fund for Black Relief and Resiliency, a program that provides cash grants to Black individuals and Black owned businesses and organizations that have experienced financial challenges due to COVID-19. Her term in the legislature ended in January 2021.

County commissioners pointed to that experience as reason to send Lawrence Spence to Salem again.

"You came into office in perhaps the most difficult time one could imagine... for the state," said Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal Monday. "And you proved that, even with a limited duration engagement, you could really hit the ground running and get incredibly important work done."

Lawrence Spence's new appointment to District 18 runs through 2024, but she's expecting her term to end in January 2023. Due to wonky state laws regarding legislative resignations, the District 18 position will be up for election in May 2022, and Lawrence Spence does not plan to run. Yet, she doesn't see her political career ending there.

Earlier this month, Lawrence Spence announced her plans to join the race for Portland City Council, position 2, challenging incumbent Commissioner Dan Ryan. The May 2022 primary election would take place after the short legislative session and in tandem with the election to fill Senate District 18. If Lawrence Spence wins the council seat, she would enter City Hall in January 2023.

On Monday, Lawrence Spence said that, in the small amount of time she had to govern, she would address issues that impact the diverse needs of District 18 residents, including economic development, housing assistance, and behavioral health care. Asked by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury if she would request a special legislative session to address rental assistance needs, Lawrence Spence showed little hesitation in her answer.

"Absolutely," she said. "And I believe that it will happen."

Prior to joining the legislature, Lawrence Spence founded a real estate development firm in Portland and sat on the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.

Her appointment makes her the only Black woman in the Oregon Senate. She said that, like her previous stint in the legislature, she will make great use of her short time in Salem.

"This will not be a long tenure in the Senate," said Lawrence Spence. "But this is an opportunity to do some really great work for this community as it exists right now. And I am more than up for that challenge."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that the Senate District 18 term ends in May 2022, when it actually ends in January 2023.

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