Refugee and Immigrant Advocate Kayse Jama Is Endorsed by Rep. Jeff Reardon for Oregon Senate Seat

The community leader seeks the District 24 seat that would make him Oregon’s first Muslim and former refugee in the Senate.

In 2018, racial justice advocate Kayse Jama made an unsuccessful bid for the Oregon Senate, finishing behind Sen. Shemia Fagan (D-East Portland). But with Fagan headed for statewide office, Jama increasingly looks like the front-runner to be appointed to her seat.

In the past week, Jama received the endorsements of Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-East Portland), who was also seeking the seat, and a national refugee advocacy group.

Sen. Fagan, who beat Jama in the 2018 race for District 24, will transition into the role of Oregon secretary of state in January, and county commissioners will decide this month whether to appoint Jama to fill the rest of Fagan's term.

Adrienne Enghouse and Candy Emmons are also seeking the appointment.

Jama is a onetime Somali refugee and co-founder of the racial justice organization Unite Oregon. If appointed, he would make history as the first Muslim and former refugee ever to hold a seat in the Oregon Senate.

District 24 represents a portion of Clackamas County as well as outer East Portland, which is where many of Portland's immigrants and refugees reside.

Reardon expressed interest in the seat, but he withdrew from the selection process Dec. 5 and endorsed Jama to represent one of the state's most diverse communities.

"It gives me great joy that a person from the David Douglas community, who came to this country as an immigrant, is now a parent, a community leader, and is a candidate for this Senate position," Rep. Reardon wrote in a statement. "At Unite Oregon, Kayse Jama has been leading on the very issues that I care so much about; education, health, racial justice and equitable prosperity."

Jama expressed gratitude for Reardon's decision to step aside for him in a press release.

"In [Rep. Reardon], I have found a kindred spirit and, should I be appointed, a true partner in the Legislature. I am looking forward to working with him on building a more equitable and just Oregon, in any capacity or role either of us play," Jama wrote. "Rep. Jeff Reardon is an outstanding legislator whose leadership values mirror my own: open, inclusive, and community-centered."

A New York-based nonprofit that promotes refugee representation in state government, Voice for Refuge, also announced its endorsement of Jama today in a press release.

"A tireless advocate for the community that has been his home for 20 years, Kayse Jama knows it's important to be a voice for all residents of his district," political director Mustafa Jumale said. "We are delighted to see the groundswell of support for him from respected leaders in Oregon, and Voice for Refuge is proud to give Kayse Jama our full-throated endorsement."

Ballots in the nominating election by precinct committee persons will be counted Dec. 15.