Multnomah County commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint Andrea Valderrama to an Oregon House seat vacated this spring by the resignation of Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-East Portland).
Valderrama, the chair of David Douglas School Board and a former staffer to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, will become the first Peruvian-American to serve in the Oregon Legislature. She was one of three finalists that county commissioners considered to represent House District 47, which covers most Portland neighborhoods east of Interstate 205.
Commissioners said they were compelled by Valderrama's record of public service, her detailed grasp of policy, and her lived experience as a Latinx person in East Portland—which includes living in multigenerational housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her remarks seeking the appointment, Valderrama said her district needed someone who had faced the same adversity as other residents.
"Our Black, Indigenous and communities of color don't have any more time to wait," she said. "We're facing too much, too quickly, too violently. We need decision-makers who don't just listen to directly impacted communities—they are themselves directly impacted. I urge you to believe my community, too, and to appoint me as our next state rep, so we can begin getting the relief we are in desperate need of."
Commissioners found that argument compelling. "I think that our community has gone through an extremely difficult year—not just the pandemic but the cries for racial justice, the cries for social and economic justice as well, and the way that we move forward as a community is really, really important," said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. "We have an opportunity before us to do things differently, to do things better, to be there for people who have too often been left behind and left out of the conversation."
Valderrama replaces Hernandez, who won a third term in the House last November. A couple of years ago, Hernandez appeared poised for higher office. But starting last spring, he faced a cascade of allegations that he had sexually harassed women working in the Oregon Capitol.
The scrutiny of Hernandez began last May, after Valderrama filed for a restraining order in Multnomah County Circuit Court against him, but subsequently withdrew it. News of the restraining order, reported by WW, and subsequent complaints about him set off the Legislature's investigation of Hernandez.
In February, the House Conduct Committee voted for his expulsion. He challenged the legitimacy and fairness of the inquiry in federal court, but a judge dismissed his plea. Hernandez resigned Feb. 21 rather than wait to see if 40 or more of the 60 members of the House would eject him.
Valderrama will serve the remainder of Hernandez's term, through 2022.
In her remarks, Valderrama talked about addressing the lack of sidewalks and streetlights in East Portland, a disparity that continues to lead to the deaths of people crossing the street.
"It has been so jarring to see the night-and-day differences between the lack of infrastructure that we have in outer East Portland to some of the other areas in the city," she said. "In my work in Portland City Hall, working for the transportation commissioner, I have been able to work on providing safety improvements, right here in this district. But I have also been a mom raising my daughter. I know what it's like to push that stroller in the mud."
Rachel Monahan and Nigel Jaquiss contributed to this report.