By Jim EllisDec. 3, 2021 — Saying that he “…need[s] a little more time for myself, for my health and well-being, for my wife, my family, and the things I love in Oregon,” veteran Beaver State Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, announced Tuesday that he will retire after completing his 18th term next year. He ranks sixth in House seniority.
Rep. DeFazio becomes the 19th Democrat, and third full committee chair, to not seek re-election in this cycle. The other retiring chairs are Reps. John Yarmuth (Budget) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Science, Space, and Technology).
Through his 18 congressional elections, DeFazio averaged 64.4 percent of the vote, but his victory margins dropped precipitously since 2010. His 2020 performance, scoring just 51.5 percent of the vote, was the lowest of his long career. Since the 2010 election, inclusive, he failed to reach the 60 percent threshold and averaged 55.9 percent in a district that was becoming more Republican as the population grew substantially.
In all but the 2020 election during this 12-year period, Rep. DeFazio faced the same Republican opponent, college professor Art Robinson. Though Robinson ran five consecutive times from 2010 through 2018, he would make a maximum effort in only three of the campaigns.
In the most recent contest, a battle that DeFazio won 51-46 percent against Afghan War veteran and anti-terrorist hero Alex Skarlatos, the Republicans did target the contest. Skarlatos’ campaign committee spent almost $5.2 million, not counting the substantial independent expenditures that came into the district.
The 4th District of Oregon hugs most of the state’s beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline, and encompasses the Eugene-Springfield metro area as its population anchor. At the time of the 2020 election, 595,443 people were registered to vote in this congressional district, the second-highest total in the state. Of that number, 32.6 percent were registered Democrats, and 31.2 percent registered as non-affiliated, while 28.8 percent chose the Republican Party.
Despite the high number of registered voters, the 4th District’s population shed figure was 117,399 individuals, very large for most states, but actually the lowest total among Oregon’s five CDs. Such is the principal reason the state gained a sixth district in reapportionment.
When the new map was drawn, the state legislative leadership had a goal of creating a 5D-1R map. In order to achieve this ratio, at least one of the Democratic seats would be weak from a partisan perspective.
With Rep. DeFazio’s seniority in the House and his position as the Transportation Committee chairman, a prime post for bringing more infrastructure dollars back to the district, and Skarlatos having already announced that he is returning for a re-match, the state leaders significantly increased the Democratic margin in the DeFazio district at the expense of Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Canby/Salem) and the new 6th District, both of which are more competitive than District 4.
If the legislative and party leaders had known that DeFazio was not going to seek re-election, it is highly likely they would have drawn a different map, which would have yielded a stronger 5D-1R plan. Additionally, without Rep. DeFazio running in the 4th, even this district could become competitive with another strong performance from Skarlatos.
Not wasting any time, state Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle (D) declared for the House seat on the heels of DeFazio’s retirement announcement. Hoyle, after serving four terms in the state House of Representatives and one as Majority Leader, was elected statewide in 2018 with a 52-35 percent victory spread.
At the very least, the new 4th District will be rated as a Lean Democratic CD and possibly stronger when more detailed political numbers become available. We can expect to see a contested Democratic primary, while Mr. Skarlatos is likely to become a consensus Republican candidate.