Karen Spencer

Metro Councilor, District 5

The Portland Metro area became Karen’s chosen home over 20 years ago, drawn like many to the quality of life, opportunity and promise of our region.

Over those two decades, Karen built her career in business and law, while serving on numerous charitable and public boards, including the Portland Parks Foundation, Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods capital grants committee, Oregon’s Youth Development Council and the Portland Utility Board.

Trained as a scientist before entering a career in law and business, Karen brings a holistic perspective to her work, rooted in data, but always committed to improving the lives of the people and communities she serves. On the Metro Council, we can count on Karen to advance regional progress on climate change, affordable housing, and building a safe, affordable and efficient transit and transportation network for all.

Karen truly reflects the diversity and values of our region. She was one of the highest ranking African American women at Nike, where she spent nearly 15 years helping this flagship Oregon company expand jobs and drive innovation. She began her career in technology, and since leaving Nike has returned to the tech sector, helping launch a startup to assist first time business owners and consulting with entrepreneurs and those who have traditionally lacked access to capital and expertise.

A first-time candidate for public office, Karen was inspired by the stories of other women in her recent Emerge training—helping prepare progressive women for public service and political action. The open position on the Metro Council  is the ideal opportunity for Karen to apply her regional knowledge and commitment to strong communities, equity and justice, environmental stewardship and economic sustainability to help meet the needs of our rapidly growing region.

Karen is a 2011 recipient of the Portland Business Journal’s Orchid Award, their highest honor of achievement for Women of Influence. Karen received her Master of Science in Management from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. Karen is a registered patent attorney, receiving her B.S. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Chemical Engineering. She is a member of the California and Oregon state bars and the Patent bar.

Karen and her husband live with their dogs and cat in NW Portland, where she also volunteers to bring Louisiana style joie de vivre to Portland Mardi Gras and the Waterfront Blues Festival, and other celebrations of music, arts and community.

View Karen's response to the Candidate-Platform Alignment Questionnaire:

Candidate comments (optional)

A core plank of our Multnomah County Democratic platform is building a cadre of elected officials that fairly and adequately reflect the changing demographics of Oregon and who have a significant voice in decision-making.

As a woman of color, I have had unique experiences at the intersection of both my race and my sex. I have faced racist verbal and physical attacks, dealt with implicit bias while doing everyday activities, been discriminated against in housing, and overcome sexism in male dominated professions. As Metro Councilor, I will bring my life experience and passion toward removing barriers that curtail the inalienable rights of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The covid-19 pandemic has made even more apparent that housing is the fundamental building block of health and wellbeing. I will fight for reducing houselessness, creating affordable housing for those who need government assistance and increasing the housing stock to ensure that housing is affordable for individuals living paycheck to paycheck.

Housing and transportation go hand in hand. I ride the bus, the streetcar and Max for getting to work and across the Metro region. I know how one incident — on just one street — can cause gridlock throughout the entire region. We must improve transit reliability, affordability and efficiency, including electric bus investments, youth passes, and safer pathways that connect communities and address underserved populations.

I also look forward to expanding upon the work I did on Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods Capital Grants Committee through environmental stewardship to preserve our region’s unique landscape and natural resources for us to enjoy now and into the future.

I am endorsed by current and former Metro Councilors, elected officials and community leaders. By way of background, I am an engineer, a lawyer and a business person with a strategic planning background. I received my Master of Science in Management from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and my J.D. from Harvard Law School, and my Bachelor of Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Chemical Engineering. I have been involved in non-profit and civic volunteering for the Portland Parks Foundation, Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods Capital Grants Committee, the Oregon Youth Development Council and the Portland Utility Board.

I. Basic Rights
We call on our state legislators to pursue universal publicly funded health care for the state of Oregon.
We call for all members of Oregon’s Congressional Delegation to co-sponsor and actively work for the passage of expanded and improved Medicare.
We support the continuation and expansion of Medicaid.
Agree
We recognize that there is a housing crisis in our local communities and across the state. We direct Multnomah County and the City of Portland to develop affordable housing for individuals and families with zero to moderate incomes. Agree
We strongly support women’s rights to reproductive freedom of choice including unfettered access to reproductive health care services regardless of their ability to pay.
We oppose any legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood.
Agree
Comments (optional)

The covid-19 pandemic has made even more apparent that housing is the fundamental building block of health and wellbeing. I will fight for reducing houselessness, creating affordable housing for those who need government assistance and increasing the housing stock to ensure that housing is affordable for individuals living paycheck to paycheck.

II: Natural Resources Protection and Recovery
We support passage of state legislation to change our goals for economy-wide reduction of Oregon’s Greenhouse Gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and at least 50% reduction by 2035. Agree
We support the development and passage of legislation to provide mandates and incentives to:

• Expand public transportation systems; Advance an early transition to electric and zero-emission vehicles;
• Advance weatherization and structural improvements in existing buildings; Support implementation of solar energy production;
• Advance new net-zero-energy buildings and methane-free new construction; Incentivize energy efficiency in Oregon’s industries;
• Improve tree canopy and rooftop plantings where possible in all urban areas to reduce heat island effect;
• Require that electricity be produced entirely by renewable sources by 2040 and require net zero carbon building codes by 2030.

Agree
We support the development and passage of a Forest Protection and Restoration Act that will:

• Eliminate clear-cut forestry on all publicly held and managed lands and maximize climate resilient management;
• Eliminate all tax incentives to industrial forests not employing climate resilient management practices that re-establish multi-species and multi-aged forests, including protecting riparian areas that will lower stream temperature for fish habitat, restore intact functioning watershed areas, reduce landslides, protect municipal water supplies, and restore floodplain functioning to Oregon’s rivers and streams;
• Maintain incentives and subsidize independent landholders who engage in these practices;
• Reduce roads in forests; Develop and implement treatments to restore healthy forest soils;
• Accelerate programs to reduce and eventually eliminate forest stream passage barriers in Oregon;
• And re-evaluate the property tax structure for Oregon’s commercial forests.

Agree
We support a ban for any new fossil fuel infrastructure. Agree
Comments (optional)
III: Education
We call for legislation compelling large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes toward full funding to ensure the future of Oregon education Agree
We support public funding of a full-day, full-year, universal public preschool program for children age 3 to 4 in Multnomah County that is high quality, playbased, culturally responsive, and developmentally appropriate for young children. Agree
We recognize that poverty is a systemic problem embedded in society at large and believe that schools can be responsive in addressing poverty-related traumas, including the effects on highly mobile students. Therefore, we recommend that funding be invested in PreK-12 wrap-around services including mentoring, after-school programs, counselors, culturally relevant curriculum and instruction, and critical race theory initiatives, and other programs that have been proven effective in assuring student success. Agree
Comments (optional)
IV: Equity
We call for proactive educational programs for all law enforcement personnel and for all local, city, county, and state government personnel to safeguard black and brown lives and protect them from race-based law enforcement actions that far too often end in death. Agree
We demand equal pay for equal work for women from all employers in Multnomah County. Agree
Black Lives Matter. We call for legislation that provides meaningful protection for African Americans at all levels of the justice system Agree
Comments (optional)
V: Tribal Sovereignty
We call for universal, publicly funded health care to close health disparities exacerbated by Congress chronically under-funding Indian Health Service. Agree
We demand compliance with treaties between the United States and Tribal nations and hold the federal government to their trust responsibility. Agree
We support legislation that fully funds teams of investigators to work in consultation with Tribal authorities to respond to each murder and disappearance of Native American persons anywhere in Oregon. Agree
Comments (optional)
VI. Historical and Ongoing Anti-Blackness in Oregon
We call on the Oregon State Legislature to immediately assess the Black correctional populations at the county, city, and state levels.
We also demand that there be review of punishments (bail amounts, sentence lengths, amount of time served before parole) being levied at unfairly high levels on Black Oregonians. This is particularly important for disparities based on gender and race for similar crimes to other racial/ethnic groups.
We demand there be significant Criminal Justice reform in the form of investment into counseling, alternative sentencing, job training, and rehabilitation for Oregon’s over-incarcerated Black population.
Agree
We call on the Oregon State Legislature to authorize bank audits to expose patterns of racial discrimination in lending and require these banks to extend loans to Black businesses and Black institutions. Wells Fargo and Umpqua received bailout from taxpayers and owe a debt to all taxpayers regardless of race. Additionally, Wells Fargo has a long and storied history of using predatory schemes to extract wealth from Black communities. Increasing SBA loans to Black businesses would be an excellent way for banks to begin to redress the past harms they have inflicted on Black communities. Agree
The Oregon State Legislature must create a law that mandates public schools in the state teach students about America’s original sin of slavery and the Jim Crow era that followed, with an emphasis on the state of Oregon.
The legislation should also incentivize the training, hiring, and retention of Black American teachers to teach the aforementioned subject matters. This will help address the Black teacher shortage in Oregon.
Agree
Comments (optional)
VII. Justice
We call for the repeal of all mandatory minimum sentencing in Oregon, substituting Guidelines in its place, and allowing a judge to have discretion in all cases. Agree
We call on the State Legislature to pass pay equity legislation for Public Defenders and Prosecutors and their staffs. Agree
The Oregon Legislature should do away with cash bail, which discriminates against poor people, who are disproportionally people of color. Agree
We believe that the voters of Oregon should abolish the Death Penalty and life without parole sentencing. Agree
Comments (optional)
VIII. Election Integrity and Legislative Alignment
We demand campaign finance reform.
We demand that the state Attorney General challenge corporate personhood, and that state and federal legislators pass laws and a constitutional amendment clarifying that corporations are not people and money is not speech
Agree
We encourage voters to pass an Oregon constitutional amendment to allow the state to regulate political contributions and expenditures.
We call for Oregon state legislation to set limits on contributions by individuals, PACS, corporations, and unions to candidates, candidate committees, political party committees and any other political committee
Agree
We support legislation that requires voter-verifiable paper ballots in all elections, and tabulation software that is open source, non-proprietary, and available for public scrutiny and analysis with source code that is verified using a public method by qualified third parties independent of any political party or vendor, and that guarantees secure chains of custody so there can be no modifications after certification. Agree
Comments (optional)
IX. Media
We support a comprehensive net neutral public utility to provide state of the art internet access to serve all end users. Agree
We support the full funding of Public Broadcasting stations and networks, possibly supplemented by small donations from the public, to eliminate the inhibition of investigative reporting of sponsoring entities.
We support the development of ways to assure stable funding well-protected from political interference.
Agree
We support corporate responsibility with the management of our personal data. We demand internet media companies pay individuals for use of their personal data, and if there is a data breach to pay for all damages. Agree
Comments (optional)
X. Economy
We support breaking up monopolies, starting with barring Internet common carriers (i.e. Google, Facebook) from competing with businesses that use them. Agree
We support the creation of a public bank in Portland/Oregon Disagree
We support the creation of either a cap-and-trade program or a carbon tax with dividend to recognize the need to eliminate fossil fuel use as one means to fight global warming. Agree
Comments (optional)

I would like to see additional study and analysis on creating a Public Bank of Oregon prior to taking an affirmative position.

XI. Labor and Workers’ Rights
We call for the decriminalization of paid sexual acts between consenting adults and legislation allowing sex workers to organize. Agree
We oppose all legislation that diminishes workers’ rights to organize. Agree
We support legislation requiring retraining of displaced workers. We call for state and federal legislation to provide transition plans as technology and innovation change the workplace Agree
Comments (optional)
XII. Immigration
We call on the Federal Government to never take immigrant children away from their detained parents and to reunite families that have already been separated. Agree
We call on every member of the Oregon Congressional delegation to cosponsor and actively work for the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act). Agree
We call on the State and local governments of Oregon to adopt policies that protect immigrants from unlawful enforcement of immigration laws. In addition, we call on the institutions to not participate in the enforcement of Federal immigration laws Agree
Comments (optional)
XIII. Infrastructure
We support legislation to promote and implement high-speed rail or other high-speed technology, including monorail, within Oregon and along the West Coast. Agree
We support construction of renewable energy facilities or facilities that include carbon sequestration technology. Agree
We support public funding for electric vehicle infrastructure throughout Oregon. Agree
Comments (optional)
XIV. Abuse of Power
We support efforts to stipulate that corporations are not people, and money is not speech. Agree
We call for responding to drug addiction with treatment not imprisonment. Agree
We support legislation holding law enforcement personnel liable for inflicting harm through the use of excessive force. Agree
Comments (optional)