Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D)
Oregon 3rd District
Portland, the Rose City set between Mount Hood to the east and the Tualatin Mountains to the west, spans the Willamette River and keeps its industrial back to the Columbia. Still one of America’s least-known major cities, it’s also one of its most distinctive. For most of its history Portland was a prosaic city, a blue-collar town that piled Oregon lumber and Oregon pears into freight cars or unloaded machines from back East or automobiles from Japan on its docks. But in the past three decades, Portland has been transformed. Out on the Pacific Rim, it increasingly makes its living on foreign trade with Asia. It has become a home to high-tech industries, particularly in the Silicon Forest suburbs. Government has also produced change. Oregon’s land-use act, passed in 1973, required local governments to set geographic limits on growth. Metro, the regional government established in 1979 just as growth was accelerating, is a counterweight against the endless population spread outward into former farmland. With gentrification in the city, old neighborhoods have been revived with new names: “NoPo” refers to north Portland. With its first light-rail service, Portland encouraged the development of high-density commercial space and housing around transit stops. Bicycle paths wind throughout the metropolitan area, and downtown, west of the Willamette River, boasts postmodern structures amid classic masonry buildings. Portland in fact is the nation’s most bicycle-friendly large city, with the highest percentage of bike commuters. Local leaders now are seeking to make Portland the nation’s leader for biodiesel and other renewable fuels.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In the process, the central city of Portland, like San Francisco and Seattle, has attracted political and cultural liberals. And, like those two cities, Portland has its share of traffic congestion and high home prices. Earlier in the decade, Money magazine rated it among the most livable cities, but its standing has since declined. For a time, the metropolitan region had one of the country’s highest unemployment rates, due partly to the dot-com bust and perhaps exacerbated by excessive controls on growth. Money dropped Portland from its top-100 list in 2006. Still, growth has continued despite the national economic downturn in 2008.
The 3rd Congressional District of Oregon includes the large part of Portland and Multnomah County east of the Willamette River and some of suburban Clackamas County to the south. It extends over plains and hills to the exquisite scenery of Mount Hood high in the Cascades and Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River Gorge. Politically, it remains dominated by cultural liberalism, which sets Portland apart from its suburbs and the rest of Oregon. In 2004, Multnomah County voted 72%-27% for John Kerry over George W. Bush, and in 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain in Multnomah, 77%-21%.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D)
Elected: May 1996, 7th full term.
Born: Aug. 16, 1948, Portland .
Education: Lewis & Clark Col., B.A. 1970, J.D. 1976.
Religion: no religious affiliation.
Family: Married (Margaret); 4 children.
Elected office: OR House of Reps., 1972–78; Multnomah Cnty. Comm., 1978–86; Portland City Cncl., 1986–96.
Professional Career: Asst. to pres., Portland St. U., 1970–77.
The congressman from the 3rd District is Earl Blumenauer, who won a special election in May 1996 to replace Ron Wyden, elected to the Senate that year. Blumenauer grew up in Portland, graduated from Lewis and Clark College and its Northwestern Law School. He was inspired by the civil-rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, while in his teens. In 1969 in college, he headed a statewide campaign to lower Oregon’s voting age. He has held public office almost all of his adult life. In 1972, at age 23, he was elected to the Oregon House; in 1978, he was elected to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. In 1986, he was elected to the Portland City Council. He championed many of the policies that have made Portland distinctive—regional light-rail transit, curbside recycling, and aggressive land-use planning. He encouraged bicycle riding and “regional rail summits,” which bring neighborhood residents into the planning for higher densities at transit nodes. Blumenauer has had some setbacks, notably when he lost the 1992 mayoral race. But he was the obvious successor to Wyden and won the special election 68%-25%. His campaign slogan was, “Vote Earl, Vote Often.” He has been easily re-elected since.
|Earl Blumenauer (D)||254,235||(75%)||($1,132,494)|
|Delia Lopez (R)||71,063||(21%)|
|Michael Meo (Green)||15,063||(4%)|
|Earl Blumenauer (D)||121,176||(87%)|
|John Sweeney (D)||9,389||(7%)|
|Joseph Walsh (D)||8,783||(6%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (73%), 2004 (71%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (67%), 1998 (84%), 1996 (67%), 1996 (68%)
In the House, Blumenauer has a liberal voting record and a distinctive agenda. To promote biking as an alternative to driving, he rides his bicycle everywhere he travels around Washington from his Capitol Hill apartment. He formed a Bicycle Caucus that boasts over 100 members and fought for showers for bike commuters at the Capitol. Blumenauer was astonished to find that the House subsidized parking for employees, but not mass transit; now, employees can get subsidized transit fares. He is interested in what seem like quixotic projects now but may seem less so in time: an interstate highway system for bicycle paths and less dependence on driving as a tool to improve public health. “The rise of bicycles is a metaphor for change in this country,” Blumenauer says. Blumenauer proudly terms Portland a model for the future of the American city. And the sometimes-nerdy policy wonk has taken his gospel of livability and civic values elsewhere, through his Livable Cities Task Force and his political action committee. The Internet-savvy Blumenauer sets his BlackBerry to notify him when he is mentioned in a blog posting, and he responds on a regular basis.
On economic issues, he has actively promoted trade across the Pacific, a key element of Portland’s economy. He supported normal trade relations with China, but he joined most House Democrats in opposing the Central American Free Trade Agreement. With Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, he has railed against wasteful government spending. When Democrats assumed the majority in 2007, Blumenauer bolstered his influence with a seat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and became a more active lawmaker. He gave the panel a new focus on the environment and urban planning, including his call for tax subsidies for bicycle commuting and for closing a loophole that allowed businesses to write off the cost of sport utility vehicles. He worked on increased labor and environmental standards in a free-trade agreement with Peru. But he continued his independent ways as one of 14 House Democrats who voted in May 2008 to sustain President Bush’s veto of the farm bill they decried as bloated. “We’re giving money to the richest [farmers] who are going to squeeze small and medium-sized farmers out,” he told the Oregonian. And Blumenauer resigned from the U.S.-Vietnam Caucus, a group he once led, following the conviction of pro-democracy Vietnamese activists.
He seriously considered running for mayor of Portland in 2004 and surprised some local Democrats when he decided against it. Blumenauer was also mentioned widely as a possible challenger to GOP Sen. Gordon Smith in 2008 but declined to run. However, he kept the door open to a run for governor in 2010.