In January 2021, there were 13 people of color in the Legislature. That number will rise to 17 next year, and lawmakers are celebrating the step toward greater diversity while acknowledging that there is more work to be done to make Oregon’s legislative body look more like the state it represents.
The Legislature will remain overwhelmingly white and male – 48 of the 60 incoming House members and 24 of the 30 total incoming and returning senators are non-Hispanic white people. There will be only eight women in the Senate, though the House is near gender parity with 31 men and 29 women.
And every Republican in the Legislature will be a non-Hispanic white person after Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, lost her bid for a Senate seat. Moore-Green is of Puerto Rican descent.
The Legislature will add a second Indigenous woman, with Democratic Rep.-elect Annessa Hartman, who is Haudenosaunee, joining Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, who is Shoshone-Bannock, Ute and Carrizo. And the number of Black and Latino legislators will dip slightly from the current Legislature.
A U.S. RECORD
The election of five Vietnamese-American legislators, all Democrats from the Portland area, means that Oregon will have the nation’s largest group of Vietnamese-American legislators in the country. Lake Oswego restaurateur Daniel Nguyen, Portland Public Schools attendance officer Hoa Nguyen, Hillsboro dentist Hai Pham and Portland optometrist Thuy Tran will join Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, who had been the only Asian-American in the Legislature since her 2020 election.
All five incoming Vietnamese-American legislators are children of refugees who fled the Vietnam War in the 1970s. They’ll all serve in the House.
Hoa Nguyen first got involved in politics at the school board level, winning a seat on the David Douglas School Board in 2021. She attributed her work in Portland Public Schools and her desire to serve on a school board to her struggles growing up as one of the few Asian students at a Louisiana public school in the 1970s and 1980s.
Nguyen said she feels like she gets more emails and questions from parents and students than her non-Asian colleagues on the school board because the David Douglas School District serves a large population of Vietnamese families who feel more comfortable reaching out to her, and she expects that legislative constituents might do the same.
“That’s the reason why I ran, because I started seeing more people like me stepping up to leadership,” Nguyen said. “When Representative Khanh Pham ran, I was really excited to see someone like her representing a district where I feel like there’s a high representation of (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities, and so I believe that that representation does build a pipeline for other folks to be able to see that this is possible.”
She hopes to serve on the House Education Committee and plans to introduce a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections. Teens are already automatically pre-registered to vote when they interact with the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division, but they can’t vote until they turn 18. A handful of cities in Maryland allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections.
A YOUNG PERSON’S PERSPECTIVE
Across the Capitol rotunda in the Senate, 26-year-old Wlnsvey Campos will make history as the youngest senator in Oregon’s history.