Multnomah County welcomed three new commissioners to its board, making it the first board that is majority people of color and the seventh board in the county’s more than 160 years comprised entirely of women.
Jessica Vega Pederson, who represents east Portland as commissioner for District 2, was sworn in along with Lori Stegmann, who represents east Multnomah County (including Gresham) as commissioner for District 4, and Sharon Meieran, who represents west Portland as commissioner for District 1. They join Commissioner Loretta Smith, who represents north and northeast Portland for District 2 and Chair Deborah Kafoury, who leads the board.
Latina commissioner serves east Portland on county commission
Multnomah County is home to more than 50,000 Latinos residents. Jessica Vega Pederson is the county’s third Latinos leader.
She was the first Latina elected to the Oregon House. In Salem, Vega Pederson fought for access to government-issued driving cards for undocumented Oregonians, equal pay for women, paid sick leave and higher minimum wages.
She lobbied for money to install flashing crosswalks on some of the busiest and darkest four-lane roads that carry east Portland commuters to downtown jobs. Health and sustainable communities top her agenda going into this four-year term.
“In east Portland, we’re tired of being the exception to services, being told, ‘Oh, we’ll get to it next year,’” she said. Pedestrian fatalities in her neighborhood are the highest in the county. Rising housing costs are pushing people of color, immigrants, refugees and low-income families further east.
Born in Indiana, Vega Pederson is a second-generation Chicana. Her grandfather was a steelworker who raised nine children, including seven daughters.
“I was surrounded by strong Latina woman,” she said. “They were my role models of what it means to be a woman.”
And that’s the kind of role models this county needs.
“We need our government to reflect our community in the boardroom, behind the dais, to bring different ideas, different discussions,” she said. “Our problems aren’t new—so our solutions need to be.”