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Oregon Rep. Khanh Pham running for Senate

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Oregon Rep. Khanh Pham running for Senate

Sep 18, 2023 | 8:43 pm ET
By Julia Shumway
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Oregon Rep. Khanh Pham running for Senate
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State Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, speaks during a press conference about the Senate Republican walkout on June 6, 2023. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

State Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, is setting her sights on the Senate. 

Pham, 45, plans to announce her campaign for the 23rd Senate District in east Portland on Tuesday and hold a launch event in early October. She told the Capital Chronicle she wants to build on what she’s done in the House.

“I see the high stakes of this moment and I am feeling called to serve, to build on the really important work that we’ve been able to accomplish in the House, from transferring 82nd Avenue with $185 million to make improvements to passing the boldest 100% clean electricity standard in the country, with some of the strongest labor standards,” she said. “I want to expand on this work in the state Senate, because I think this is the time that we need bold leadership that’s really unafraid to push for changes.” 

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, now represents the district and plans to retire at the end of his term. He didn’t return a call from the Capital Chronicle on Monday, but Pham said Dembrow has been supportive in their conversations. 

It’s a solidly Democratic district, with more than 53,000 registered Democrats to 8,000 Republicans, and about half of them are also in her current House district. So far, Pham’s the only candidate in the race. 

Pham’s one of the most progressive members of the House, at times clashing with more moderate members of her caucus over issues like replacing the Interstate 5 bridge connecting Oregon and Washington. She vehemently opposes suggestions to widen the bridge and add more lanes for cars, and her skepticism of the Oregon Department of Transportation contributed to tensions in Joint Transportation Committee meetings. 

But she’s also worked with more conservative Democrats and Republicans, including partnering with state Rep. David Gomberg, a moderate Democrat from Otis, on a plan supported by most Democrats to change Oregon’s unusually high quorum requirements and stop a small group of lawmakers from being able to shut down legislative work by leaving the Capitol. They weren’t successful, but Pham intends to keep pushing for quorum changes. 

She also sponsored a bill this year that passed unanimously out of the House and with only one “no” vote in the Senate that will allow schools to use state transportation funding for student transit passes or to facilitate walking or biking to school. So-called “bike buses” or “walking buses” include one or more adults chaperoning children who bike or walk to school, and the new law would allow districts to receive state funding for bike bus leaders the same way they can get funding for school bus drivers. 

Pham serves on the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee and its natural resources subcommittee, the Joint Transportation Committee and the House Committee on Climate, Energy and the Environment. If elected to the Senate, she said she’d stay focused on fiscally responsible transportation spending that prioritizes safety, multimodal access and climate-friendly transportation. 

The Senate district contains Pham’s current House district and a district represented by Rep. Thuy Tran, D-Portland. It has fewer shade-providing trees than other parts of Portland, and 82nd Avenue, the abandoned section of state highway 213 that’s one of the city’s most dangerous corridors for pedestrians and cyclists, runs through the district. 

Three years in Legislature

Pham was elected to the House in 2020, after years as a community organizer focused on safer streets, affordable housing and clean energy. Her area of Portland is poorer than other parts of the city and has a high concentration of immigrants and other people of color. Pham’s first foray into electoral politics was with passing a local ballot initiative and creating the Portland Clean Energy Fund, a grant program funded by a 1% surcharge on large retailers that pays for things like installing heat pumps. 

“With that kind of coalition, we realized that we wanted to continue to build on that at the state level.” Pham said. “And so when the seat opened up, my community asked me to run for House District 46, and that’s what led me. It was purely my experience organizing the community that led me to now wanting to bring these issues and advocate for my community at the state level.”

Sens. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis; Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha; Lew Frederick, D-Portland; Kayse Jama, D-Portland;  James Manning, D-Eugene; and Kathleen Taylor, D-Portland, have endorsed Pham. Taylor, who represents a neighboring district, said in a statement that the two are already working together on issues that affect both districts. 

“She has proven herself to be a strong partner for Portland in Salem, delivering the jurisdictional transfer of 82nd Avenue in her first term in the House and now working with me on the Powell workgroup so we can make needed safety changes and stop dangerous crashes,” Taylor said. “Khanh is an unwavering advocate for our environment and a true champion for her community. I look forward to serving alongside Khanh in the Senate in 2025.”

Pham has about $78,000 in her campaign bank account according to state campaign finance records, though her team said the actual figure is closer to $118,000 with some checks expected to clear this week. Candidates have 30 days after a transaction to report any contributions or expenses. 

She declines contributions from corporations or corporate political action committees, though she has accepted large contributions in past campaigns from labor unions and environmental groups.