Rep. Peter DeFazio (D)
Oregon 4th District
Eugene is nestled in the southernmost bit of lowland in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and is surrounded by mountains on three sides. It is a farming center, a lumber metropolis and, most notably, a university town. Settlers arrived here in 1846, farming in the valley and cutting timber in the hills. In 1876, the University of Oregon was established, a symbol of the state’s strong Yankee cultural ethic. Eugene and next-door Springfield, once a lumber town and now a center for the manufacture of computer chips, have grown into comfortable midsized towns. Eugene has bicycle paths along the riverbanks and its main streets, and likes to bill itself as the “Running Capital of the Universe”—Phil Knight and his former University of Oregon track coach, Bill Bowerman, started Nike here, the first soles formed on a waffle iron. Now the second-largest city in Oregon, behind Portland, and often described as one of the most livable in the nation, Eugene has small-town ambience and urban sensibilities (local laws permit nude beaches, but only with individuals of the same sex), and its liberal voters have been vital to Democrats statewide.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Beyond Eugene and Springfield are southwest Oregon’s green-clad mountains, and for years the region cut more timber than anywhere else in the country. But demand for wood is volatile, dependent on the vagaries of interest rates. East Asia increasingly wants unprocessed logs rather than milled lumber, which means fewer jobs for Oregon. The 1980s were tough on this region. Recession reduced demand for housing, and the cutting of old-growth forests was banned to protect the endangered spotted owl. But even as the lumber industry languished, a robust local economy and active job retraining resulted in local job gains in the 1990s. Recent economic development has been diverse, with gains in health care, tourism, and retiree migration from California. But Timber Country, including forest-product businesses, continues to struggle. With the 2006 closing of Weyerhaeuser’s plywood plant, Lane County’s wood-products-sector employment dropped by two-thirds from its 1977 peak of 14,000 jobs. The decline of commercial fishing also hit coastal towns of southwest Oregon hard.
The 4th Congressional District of Oregon includes Eugene, Springfield, and surrounding Lane County; it goes south on Interstate 5 to include Roseburg in Douglas County, once one of the premier logging counties in the United States. It extends north to Albany and includes most of Corvallis, except for Oregon State University. It includes the entire southern half of Oregon’s stunning Pacific coastline down to the California border. Eugene is heavily Democratic. Roseburg, the vacation town of Albany, and their surrounding counties vote heavily Republican. The travails of the logging industry moved the area to the right: The 4th District (with only slightly different boundaries) voted 54%-44% against George H. W. Bush in 1988, but 49%-44% for George W. Bush in 2000. In 2004, the 4th voted narrowly for John Kerry, one of just two districts in the nation to flip from Bush to Kerry. It voted 54%-43% for Barack Obama in 2008.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D)
Elected: 1986, 12th term.
Born: May 27, 1947, Needham, MA .
Education: Tufts U., B.A. 1969, U. of OR, M.S. 1977.
Family: Married (Myrnie).
Military career: Air Force, 1967–71.
Elected office: Lane Cnty. Bd. of Commissioners, 1982–86.
Professional Career: Dist. dir., U.S. Rep. James Weaver, 1977–82.
The congressman from the 4th District is Peter DeFazio (da-FAH-zee-oh), a Democrat first elected in 1986. He grew up in Massachusetts, came to Oregon for graduate school, was a bike mechanic, and went to work for 4th District Rep. Jim Weaver, a Democrat. In 1982, DeFazio moved to Springfield and won a seat on the county commission. When Weaver retired in 1986, DeFazio won his House seat in a tight race. He beat Bill Bradbury 34%-33% in the primary and won the general election 54%-46%. DeFazio has compiled a record that seems to satisfy both Eugene and the rest of the district: He’s liberal on most issues, and moderate on social issues. An original founder of the loose-knit Progressive Caucus, he has not been shy to express his anger that millions of working Americans suffered during the boom years before 2008. He opposed the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement and later was a leader in the fight to defeat normal trade relations with China.
|Peter DeFazio (D)||275,143||(82%)||($471,179)|
|Jaynee Germond (CNP)||43,133||(13%)|
|Mike Beilstein (Green)||13,162||(4%)|
|Peter DeFazio (D)||119,366||(99%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (62%), 2004 (61%), 2002 (64%), 2000 (68%), 1998 (70%), 1996 (66%), 1994 (67%), 1992 (71%), 1990 (86%), 1988 (72%), 1986 (54%)
DeFazio often takes idiosyncratic views. During the period of GOP control of Congress, he offered a specific proposal to fix Social Security, unlike most Democrats. He called for removing the payroll deduction limitation that benefits the top wage earners. He took the lead in the House effort to permit airline pilots to carry guns in the cockpit, and although the Bush administration opposed it, DeFazio won by an astonishing 250-175. The Senate later followed suit. After catastrophic wildfires in the summer of 2002, DeFazio teamed with Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden to seek a middle ground to speed the thinning of brush in the forests; DeFazio’s environmental allies denounced him as a turncoat, but his proposal was enacted.
When Democrats won control of the House in 2006, DeFazio took the influential post of chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Highways and Transit Subcommittee. He called for taxing oil companies, rather than imposing a gas tax on consumers, after high gas prices prompted people to drive less, with a resulting falloff in revenues in the highway trust fund. He also criticized loopholes in the highway-safety law that were blamed for inadequate oversight of drug and alcohol use by truck drivers.
DeFazio has routinely won re-election by more than 60% in a marginal district. Against former FBI agent Jim Feldkamp, who favored more local control of forests and spent a total of $1 million in back-to-back challenges in 2004 and 2006, DeFazio got 61% and 62%, respectively. The vote was close in the southern counties of Curry, Douglas, and Josephine, but DeFazio exceeded two-thirds of the vote in Lane County. After GOP Sen. Bob Packwood resigned in 1995, DeFazio ran to succeed him. In the primary, he had far less money than Democratic Rep. Ron Wyden. His opposition to gun control and NAFTA provided clear contrasts to Wyden, but Wyden won 50%-44% and went on to prevail in the general election. In the 2002 election, DeFazio considered running again for the Senate, this time against Republican Gordon Smith. But he said he would run only with the “strongest possible support” from Democratic leaders. They in turn declined to help unless he showed he could raise a significant amount of money and get traction in the early polls. DeFazio opted to remain in the House. Should he ever decide not to seek re-election, this might well be a seriously contested seat.