DeFazio

Rep. Peter DeFazio in 2015.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, the longest serving congressman in Oregon history, announced on Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in 2022.

DeFazio, 74, issued a statement Wednesday that he would retire "with humility and gratitude" toward voters who returned him to Washington every two years since 1986.

"For 36 years I have fought corporate greed and special interests," DeFazio said. "It’s time for me to pass the baton to the next generation so I can focus on my health and well-being."

DeFazio's announcement immediately set off a scramble for his seat. Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle announced she would run for Congress instead of re-election. Other state lawmakers and local politicians could jump into the unexpected open seat.

DeFazio is the 19th House Democrat to say they won't run next year. Among Republicans, 11 incumbents are either retiring or running for other office. Republicans need a swing of just five seats to take back control of the House, which they lost in 2018.

History is on the GOP's side — the party of a newly elected president has lost seats in the House during the first midterm in all but two elections in the past 100 years.

Oregon received a sixth congressional district beginning in 2022 because of population growth. DeFazio's departure will mean two open seats in Congress on the November ballot.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, is also running for re-election in a significantly altered 5th Congressional District that now stretches from Portland to Bend.

DeFazio had filed a statement with the Federal Election Commission that he planned to seek re-election next year. He had raised just under $1.24 million this year, through the last reporting period that ended Sept. 30. 

Alek Skarlatos, a Republican from Roseburg, has raised just under $745,000 for his second bid to unseat DeFazio. He's best known as the Oregon National Guard member who fought and captured a terrorist about to launch an attack aboard a train bound for Paris in 2015. 

DeFazio won 51.5% of the vote in his 2020 race against Skarlatos. Art Robinson won the Republican primary five times beginning in 2010, losing to DeFazio each election. Robinson opted to run for a state senate seat in 2020, which he won.

The announcement of DeFazio was greeted by Oregon Democrats with praise - and some announcments of their own.

Hoyle, the former House majority leader from Eugene, was the first to declare a bid to succeed DeFazio. She said in a statement Wednesday that she would drop her bid for re-election as Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner in order to run for the 4th district seat.

“I have always been focused on getting the job done, not on who gets the credit,” Hoyle said in a statement. “Nobody can fill Peter DeFazio’s shoes. But I am determined to do all I can to ensure that his dedication to our people and communities, his strong and principled leadership, and his track record of putting the needs of hard-working Oregonians first will continue.”

Though officially a non-partisan office, Hoyle's announcement the labor commissioner position will be up for grabs. If a candidate can win over 50% of the vote in the primary - as Hoyle did in 2018 - they are automatically elected and do not have to face any challenger in November.

Hoyle could face a host of Democratic competition for the seat.

Most of the vote that has backed DeFazio's repeated re-election has come from the Eugene area. Veteran state Democrats from in or near the district include Sen. Floyd Prozanski, Sen. James Manning, Rep. Paul Holvey, Rep. Nancy Nathanson, Rep. Julie Fahey, Rep. John Lively and Rep. Marty Wilde.

The district also includes the strongly Democratic Corvallis area, which includes legislative districts of Democratic Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin and Rep. Dan Rayfield.

Others could run, then move into the area. Under the U.S. constitution, members of Congress don't have to live in their districts, just the state. 

DeFazio had been a legislative aide and Lane County commissioner before winning the congressional seat in 1986, near the end of President Ronald Reagan's second term. He's currently the third longest-serving member of the U.S. House.

When Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Oregon, resigned in 1995 during a sexual harassment scandal, DeFazio entered a special primary election for the seat. He lost to then Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Portland.

Since Democrats took control of the House in 2018, he has served as chair of the House Transportation Committee and played a crucial role in pushing President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill through the House.

But DeFazio's anger has flared in public twice this year — with fellow Democrats sometimes his targets.

When Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, struck a deal with House Republicans that would give them an equal say on a key redistricting committee, DeFazio slammed the move as unilateral disarmament as Democrats struggled to retain their House majority. 

"She is totally Portland-centric, and nothing outside of Multnomah County exists so far as she's concerned," DeFazio told Politico magazine in May, "It's just inexplicable and arrogant."

Kotek later reversed her position and a map that included a fortified Democratic majority in the 4th Congressional District was approved in September.

DeFazio was also angry over President Joe Biden and senators, including Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, going around him and other key House members in negotiations on the $1 trillion transportation infrastructure plan.

“I could give a damn about the White House," DeFazio told Politico magazine in July. "We’re an independent branch of government. They cut this deal. I didn’t sign off on it.”

DeFazio had back surgery earlier this year and said Wednesday that his health was a factor in deciding not to run again. 

The move means two of Oregon's six congressional seats will be open following redistricting that added a sixth district to the state's total.

A recent redistricting plan approved by the Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown created a safer Democratic district for DeFazio. Though Republicans have not won the 4th congressional district in a half century, Republicans have targeted the area as southern portions of the district have swung toward Republicans. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said DeFazio would be tough to replace. 

"For decades, the people of southwest Oregon have had an outstanding champion for jobs, clean energy and conservation," Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday. "Our Democratic Caucus will miss a trusted voice and valued friend."  

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, issued a statement praising "his friend."

“Peter DeFazio blends all the best qualities of a top-notch legislator — he’s an effective, passionate and powerful advocate who always puts the best interests of his constituents first,” Wyden said.

A founder of the Progressive Caucus in the U.S. House, DeFazio's overall voting record has been liberal. But he's tacked against the party's leadership at times when he thought moves would hurt his constituents.

During a 2013 of U.S. International Trade Commission, DeFazio testified that American policies on trade with China were driving unemployment in timber-dependent areas of his district. Import-friendly rules were turning southwestern Oregon into a “new Appalachia,” DeFazio said.

Democrats most recently took control of the House in 2018, in the first midterm election after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election.

The swing in seats that year followed the historical trend of the party of a new president losing seats the next time voters go to the polls.

The streak has only been broken twice in more than 100 years, by Democrats in 1934 following the Depression-era election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and by Republicans in 2002 in the first election after George W. Bush became president — and first vote after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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