Former Guardsman faces current labor commissioner in 4th Congressional District race

Alek Skarlatos, who came within 5 points of winning Congressional District 4 in 2020, is running against Val Hoyle, Oregon’s labor commissioner

By: - October 26, 2022 6:00 am

Democrat Val Hoyle faces Republican Alek Skarlatos in the Congressional District 4 race. (Campaign photos)

For the first time since 1986, Peter DeFazio is not running to represent Oregon’s Congressional District 4. 

Instead, vying for the job are Republican Alek Skarlatos — who came within 5 points of beating DeFazio in 2020 — and Democrat Val Hoyle, who currently serves as commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. 

It’s a study in contrasts between the two candidates: Skarlatos is a young, politically inexperienced former Oregon Army National Guardsman on the right wing, while Hoyle is a former Oregon House Democratic leader with a long legislative record of supporting progressive priorities. 

The district’s voter makeup moved in favor of Democrats after lines were redrawn last year, but the race is far from a guaranteed win. Most national political forecasters rate the district as “lean Democrat,” though there has not been any public polling recently released.

DeFazio’s retirement represents an opportunity for Republicans to flip a long-held Democratic seat in what experts believe is an electoral environment this year that favors right-leaning candidates.

Oregon hasn’t elected more than one Republican to the state’s congressional delegation since 1994, and a Republican hasn’t represented this district since 1975.

As it is, Republicans are favored to reclaim the House, but in a contest that could be decided by just a handful of seats, Democrats losing Oregon’s Congressional District 4 would be a troubling loss. 

The district’s largest city is still Eugene, but now it includes more of the coastal region — from the California border to north of Lincoln City — while the areas east of Corvallis and southeast of Roseburg were cut out. 

“He could win, but it’s a real uphill battle. (Skarlatos) is so identified with the Trump brand, and that will do him well in big parts of the district, but it will not do as well in the population centers,” said Jim Moore, political science professor at Pacific University. “(Hoyle) is a pretty strong candidate. She’s run everywhere in the district before … She’s running on her record: ‘I’m not a neophyte, I know what legislation is and I know how Congress works.’” 

Working in Skarlatos’ favor is his fundraising advantage: For this election cycle through June 30, he received more than $2.4 million in campaign contributions, compared to shy of $1.2 million for Hoyle, according to the latest federal campaign finance data. 

He could win, but it's a real uphill battle.

– Jim Moore, political science professor at Pacific University

Much of Skarlatos’ contributions have come from individuals, though according to itemized receipts, fewer than half live in Oregon. His largest single contribution was $63,000 from the Take Back the House 2022 political action committee, led by U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. The Congressional Leadership Fund, also linked to McCarthy, has spent more than $700,000 in advertisements against Hoyle since late September. 

Hoyle has far fewer individual donors than Skarlatos, but does have the support of labor unions and some national Democratic political action committees. 

She also has received support from independent political action committees. During the primary, political action committee Web3 Forward spent more than $500,000 on advertisements in support of Hoyle. The group purports to support Democratic candidates who are “committed to making the next generation internet more secure, open and owned by the users.”

Hoyle’s support from outside groups continued past the primary: In September, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent an estimated $800,000 on digital media advertisements against Skarlatos.

The next quarterly financial filing deadline is Oct. 15, which will show if Hoyle has been able to close the gap. 

Name: Alek Skarlatos

Age: 30

Party: Republican

Residence: Roseburg

Profession: Self-employed, real estate

Funds raised as of Sept. 30, 2022: $3.6 million

Cash on hand as of Sept. 30, 2022: $536,000

Key endorsements: U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Oregon), U.S. House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), Combat Veterans of America, Taxpayers Association of Oregon 

Alek Skarlatos, Republican

Skarlatos and his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this article. 

The son of a Greek immigrant father, Skarlatos grew up in Northern California before moving to Oregon as a teen and graduating from Roseburg High School.  

He rose to prominence after he and five other people stopped an attempted terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in 2015. Skarlatos was awarded several commendations, including the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Medal from former President Barack Obama. He later starred as himself in a Clint Eastwood film about the attack. 

Skarlatos first sought public office in 2018 with an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Douglas County commissioner. He then ran for Congressional District 4 in 2020, losing to DeFazio in the general election by 5.3 percentage points, the narrowest victory of DeFazio’s congressional career. 

The 2020 campaign led some national GOP figures to dub Skarlatos a rising star in the party. 

Skarlatos has been a controversial figure since his appearance in politics. He has made statements doubting the impact of climate change on forest fire severity, downplayed the Jan. 6 insurrection on multiple occasions and showed support for businesses flouting masking rules during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. 

As the Capital Chronicle first reported last month, Skarlatos joked about strangling women on a podcast shortly before beginning his political career four years ago and has repeatedly “liked” photos of underage girls on Instagram in the years since. 

It just seems like this country is really at a turning point. And if we can’t win in an open seat in this kind of a year in Oregon, it just seems like we’re hopeless.

– Alek Skarlatos, Republican candidate in the Congressional District 4 race

In 2020, Skarlatos accepted an endorsement from QAnon conspiracy theorist and Oregon U.S. Senate candidate Jo Rae Perkins and offered her his well wishes in a since-deleted tweet. 

This election, Skarlatos has appeared to attempt to moderate his image, focusing on issues like rising costs for gas and health care and bringing “balance” to Washington, D.C. with Democrats currently in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. In campaign ads, he has touted Obama’s praise of his 2015 heroics and tried to persuade 2020 Biden voters to support him. 

In a candidate forum on Oct. 6, Skarlatos said that he supports the Affordable Care Act, would not vote for a national abortion ban (but was in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade and liked a tweet comparing abortion to slavery in June), is against expanding the U.S. role in the Russia-Ukraine war and would work with both parties if elected.  

“It just seems like this country is really at a turning point. And if we can’t win in an open seat in this kind of a year in Oregon, it just seems like we’re hopeless,” he told Fox News during a recent interview. 

Skarlatos has targeted Hoyle for her support of legislation that he says led to higher taxes and costs for small businesses, hospitals and average Oregonians. He has also criticized her for supporting a bill that he says protected pharmaceutical companies at the expense of people.

Name: Val Hoyle

Age: 58

Party: Democrat

Residence: Springfield

Profession: Commissioner, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries

Funds raised as of Sept. 30, 2022: $2 million

Cash on hand as of Sept. 30, 2022: $250,000

Key endorsements: U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Oregon Coalition of Police & Sheriffs, Oregon Education Association

Val Hoyle, Democrat 

Hoyle and her family moved to Lane County in 1999 and she began her career in elected office a decade later when she was appointed to replace the outgoing Democratic representative for the Eugene area. 

She was elected to a full term in 2010 and held her seat until 2017, rising to the position of House Democratic caucus leader. 

During her time in office, she helped pass a variety of Democratic priorities, including: a minimum wage increase, coal to clean energy by 2030, background checks for gun sales between private parties and the Clean Fuels Program. 

She declined to run for reelection in 2016, instead seeking the office of secretary of state, but losing in the Democratic primary. Two years later she was elected as commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which is a nonpartisan position responsible for overseeing the agency that protects workers’ employment rights and opportunities.  

Hoyle has positioned herself in this campaign as a logical successor to DeFazio, calling him both a friend and a political mentor. She said DeFazio was always a strong advocate for this district, and she would bring the same mentality to the job. The district doesn’t need a dyed-in-the-wool progressive or conservative, but someone who will listen to what the people need, Hoyle said.  

“They need someone who actually understands (the district) and who isn’t just going to feed them a line,” she said.  

Hoyle said Skarlatos is being disingenuous as he tries to portray himself in this campaign as a more moderate Republican. She saw a far-right Republican candidate in 2020, and that’s still who he is, she said.

I’m not going to sit on the sidelines at this point in time when I know our district needs a fighter.

– Val Hoyle. Democratic candidate in Congressional District 4 race

“His reason for holding these positions is so he can get elected,” she said.

Hoyle said her priorities in Congress would be to improve infrastructure, maintain the social safety net and rebuild the middle class. On her website she says she would vote in support of protecting abortion access, universal health care, a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, comprehensive paid family and medical leave for all workers and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

Hoyle said her experience with labor and business and working in the private sector for years gives her a unique perspective on what policies are likely to benefit all sides of the economy. 

But what finally pushed her to run for Congress was her belief that the U.S. democracy would be at-risk if Republicans — who critics say increasingly hold anti-democratic views, particularly in their denial of the 2020 presidential election results — gained control of the House of Representatives.

She recalled a conversation she had with her cousin about her apprehension to go to D.C. when there was still much to do in Oregon. Her cousin reminded her of her concerns, and that now could be a time to act on them. 

“I’m not going to sit on the sidelines at this point in time when I know our district needs a fighter,” Hoyle said. 

CORRECTION: Skarlatos has benefitted from a $700,000 ad campaign against Hoyle by the Congressional Leadership Fund. A previous version of this story stated he had not received outside assistance.









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Connor Radnovich
Connor Radnovich

Connor Radnovich is a freelance reporter based in Salem with five years experience covering Oregon politics for the Statesman Journal. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2014 with degrees in journalism and mass communication.