DeFazio’s retirement decision triggers political watch for candidates; 2 declare to run

One Republican and one Democratic candidate so far have confirmed they’ll run in DeFazio’s 4th Congressional District when he retires next year. Others have signaled interest.

By: , and - December 1, 2021 5:30 pm

Statewide Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, center, announced her campaign for Oregon’s 4th congressional district early Wednesday afternoon. House Rep. Marty Wilde, right, and state Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, left, say they are thinking about running. (Oregon Legislature and Labor Commisioner-elect Val Hoyle)

Just hours after U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio announced his intention to retire from Congress at the end of his term in 2022, a state official revealed she hoped to replace him. 

But Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, a Democrat, won’t be alone in seeking to represent Oregon’s 4th Congressional District.

Democratic watchers said state Sens. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, James Manning, D-Eugene, and state Reps. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis and Julie Fahey, D-Eugene could also run, along with Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins. 

Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, told the Capital Chronicle via text that he was considering getting into the race, but hadn’t decided. Wilde’s precinct was drawn into a state House district that favors Republicans in the state’s redistricting plan.

Gelser Blouin told the Capital Chronicle that she is considering running for DeFazio’s seat.

“It’s something I have considered in the past,” Gelser Blouin said. “What I am focused on is doing the best that I can for people who are often left in the shadows – kids, people with disabilities, elderly people. I just need to spend a little time sorting through what the best place is for me to continue that – whether that is the state Senate or Congress.”

Fahey, who chairs the state House’s housing committee, said she won’t run for Congress.

“My priority and passion is for predominantly state-level issues like housing, workforce development, and education – that’s where I think my experience and perspectives can make the biggest difference,” Fahey said.

Rayfield, Manning and Cribbins didn’t return calls by Wednesday evening.

DeFazio’s retirement opens the door for candidates of both parties to seek a rare open seat in Oregon in a district that clearly favors Democrats.

DeFazio said during a news conference Wednesday that he chose to retire in part because of the new district boundaries. Other Democrats would have a difficult time running in his district as it existed before redistricting, he said, but they’ll now have a better chance. 

On the Republican side, Lane County Republican Committee Chair John Large said Alek Skarlatos was the front runner. Skarlatos is a former Army National Guardsman who gained international recognition for stopping an armed terrorist on a Paris-bound train in 2015. He is seeking the Republican nomination again after challenging DeFazio in 2020. 

Skarlatos declined an interview, but lashed out in a statement against President Joe Biden’s administration. He said Biden’s policies resulted in higher gas prices, record inflation and safety problems from an open border. 

“It’s time for a new generation to lead Oregon, and not only will I hold Joe Biden accountable, but I will also offer fresh ideas to secure our border and fix this inflation crisis that is hurting middle-class families in Oregon,” Skarlatos said.

Large said more candidates are likely to emerge soon. “I think a couple weeks is what it’s gonna take. We’ve got a lot of good candidates out there. I have a hunch more people will throw their hats into the ring.”

Large said he was “doing flips” when he heard of DeFazio’s retirement. 

“The spirit of the corps, the esprit de corps, for Lane County and Lane County Republicans – I’ve never seen it this high,” he said. Large said Republicans have increased their committee precinct membership in the last two years from 110 to 245.  

Lane County Democratic Chair Chris Wig expects the seat will stay with a Democrat.

“However, the dynamic of the presiding party losing seats in the first midterm is certainly in play,” he said. 

DeFazio has said he intends to endorse and support the eventual Democratic nominee, but he doesn’t plan to identify anyone as his favored successor.

RELATED STORY: After more than three decades, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is done with Congress

This article has been updated to reflect comments from state Rep. Julie Fahey

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.

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