© 2022 KLCC

KLCC
136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401
541-463-6000
klcc@klcc.org

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Oregon's Willamette Valley seen from Eugene
NPR for Oregonians
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio will retire in 2022

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, right, speaks during a news conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and Richmond (Va.) Mayor Levar Stoney, left, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin
/
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, right, speaks during a news conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and Richmond (Va.) Mayor Levar Stoney, left, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is retiring.

After more than three decades as a mainstay in Oregon politics, the state’s longest-tenured U.S. House member announced Wednesday that he won’t seek a 19th term representing the state’s 4th Congressional District, which spans the state’s southwest corner, stretching from the California border to Albany.

“With humility and gratitude I am announcing that I will not seek re-election next year,” DeFazio, 74, said in a statement. “It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as Congressman for the Fourth District of Oregon.”

The decision means Oregon will lose one of its most influential voices in Washington, D.C. DeFazio, known for a quirky personality and, at times, a short temper, is the influential chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure – a role that allowed him to shape a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package passed in November.

“He’s one of the most influential members of Congress on infrastructure, and I think I know a little something about that,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a longtime friend and transportation wonk in his own right, said Wednesday. “It will be a tremendous loss to lose the longest-serving member of Congress in Oregon’s history.”

DeFazio is also retiring just as he has reason to believe his path to reelection would be easier. The Fourth District is expected to be more favorable to Democratic candidates beginning next year, after Democratic lawmakers successfully passed a new redistricting plan. Members of both parties had expected DeFazio to cruise to victory, despite a potential rematch with a Republican candidate, Alek Skarlatos, who had proven competitive in 2020.

But Blumenauer, who learned of DeFazio’s decision Tuesday, said the new map actually helped the congressman’s decision to retire after decades of a grueling commute that often saw DeFazio having to drive hours back to his district after flying cross-country to Portland.

“It makes it easier for Peter because he doesn’t want to abandon his district,” Blumenauer said. “The [new] district is one that a thoughtful Democrat will win.”

DeFazio was first elected to Congress in 1986. At the time he was a 39-year-old county commissioner, who’d formerly worked as a staffer for Oregon Congressman Jim Weaver

Through his 34 years in the House, DeFazio cultivated a distinct populist view that resonated with voters disenchanted with the political establishment. Before Donald Trump launched his own battles against free trade, DeFazio voted against every major trade agreement to come before Congress. DeFazio parted ways with fellow Democrats in supporting a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. And he opposed President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill, saying it didn’t include enough money for infrastructure spending.

DeFazio often talked about battling “idiots,” as when he told a TV station in Eugene in 2011 that there was a shortage of federal money for needed dam repairs in Oregon because of “some of the idiots I’m working with in Washington.”

Blumenauer said DeFazio has continued to grow tired of the political gamesmanship in D.C.

“I think he is frustrated that he is spending a lot of time in Committee with Republicans just complaining,” he said. “They’re not involved in any constructive efforts. Peter’s instincts are to get things done.”

This story will be updated.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.