Kennemer Appointed to Replace Olsen in State Senate

Bill Kennemer might be forgiven for feeling a bit like the Godfather these days: Just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in.

Bill Kennemer.
Kennemer, a longtime Canby-area resident, retired from the Oregon Legislature in 2018 after nearly a decade serving House District 39.

Also a former state senator and Clackamas County commissioner, Kennemer, 74, declined to seek re-election three years ago and likely believed his time as a public servant had come to a close.

But fate had something else in store. When state Sen. Alan Olsen, also from Canby, abruptly resigned last month, Kennemer was one of nearly a dozen local conservatives to submit their names for consideration.

And, as the only one with prior elective experience in the Legislature, he soon rose to the top of the pile.

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Congratulations Bill Kennemer, newly appointed senator for district 20! #orleg

On Monday, Clackamas and Marion County commissioners met in joint session to consider Kennemer and two other finalists to fill Olsen’s unexpired term: Steve Bates and John Lee, both of Boring.

The hearing, which was held via Zoom, included public endorsements from district residents, a question and answer session and opportunities for each candidate to give opening and closing remarks.

All three performed well and received praise from elected officials and public commenters alike. But at the end of the day, most commissioners signaled that they favored Kennemer.

His prior experience — given the serious challenges facing the state and the fact that the appointee must assume office in the middle of a legislative session (which would only steepen the learning curve of a first-time lawmaker) — seemed to push him over the top.

That he had served during previous statewide apportionment and redistricting periods — which happen every decade following the Census and is currently on tap for 2021 — was a particular mark in his favor, according to several commissioners.

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Only Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull expressed his initial preference for someone other than Kennemer (longtime Boring community leader Steve Bates), but he ultimately joined the others in unanimously sending the Canby resident back to the State Capitol.

After the vote, Commissioner Paul Savas acknowledged the extraordinary difficulty of the decision, saying he knew, liked and trusted all three men.

“Bill, congratulations,” Savas said, then adding with a laugh: “You better get working.”

Monday afternoon, Rep. Christine Drazan, Kennemer’s replacement in the House District 39 seat and a fellow Canby-area resident, tweeted her congratulations.

Fred Girod, leader of the Republican caucus in the Senate, also welcomed Kennemer back to the fold.

“We thank Senator Olsen for his years of service,” Girod said. “We now welcome Bill back to the Senate. He has been a faithful public servant for his community and will provide important leadership on the most pressing issues of our time: wildfire recovery, getting help to our small businesses and working families, getting schools reopened, and an effective pandemic response.”

Kennemer’s previous service in the Oregon Senate had been from 1987 to 1997. He served on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners before being elected to the House in 2009.

“His wealth of experience and relationships in the policymaking process will be especially critical as we approach redistricting,” Girod said. “He has gone through that process twice before. I know he will fight for fairly drawn districts so voters can choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

Kennemer will serve the remaining two years of Olsen’s unexpired term until November 2022, when the seat will again be subject to the will of the voters.

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