NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, December 2nd, 2021

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio calls it quits: Thirty-six years in Congress well spent, with a provocative book to come

After a thir­ty-six year tenure in Con­gress, the longest in Beaver State his­to­ry, Oregon’s Peter DeFazio announced this week that he is retir­ing. The chair­man of the House Com­mit­tee on Trans­porta­tion and Infra­struc­ture is going out on a high note, hav­ing helped craft Con­gress’ infra­struc­ture pack­age and made major con­tri­bu­tions to the Build Back Bet­ter plan passed by the House.

DeFazio, sev­en­ty-four, has served on the trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee from the day he entered Con­gress in 1987 and, in the words of Politi­co, accu­mu­lat­ed an “ency­clo­pe­dic amount of insti­tu­tion­al and tech­ni­cal knowl­edge on infrastructure.”

He’s been much more than an expert.

DeFazio has car­ried on in the pop­ulist tra­di­tion of his pre­de­ces­sor, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Weaver, in a dis­trict that includes Eugene but also farm­ing, log­ging and fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties of South­west Ore­gon from Albany to the Cal­i­for­nia border.

He helped found the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus. He has backed cre­ation of wilder­ness areas while rep­re­sent­ing a dis­trict with the high­est tim­ber cut off fed­er­al lands in the “low­er 48” states.

He has shown an inde­pen­dent streak, oppos­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s $797 bil­lion stim­u­lus plan because it did not com­mit ade­quate resources to infrastructure.

The post of com­mit­tee chair, or rank­ing Demo­c­rat, is like­ly to remain in the North­west. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Rick Larsen, D‑Washington, chairs the avi­a­tion com­mit­tee. He and DeFazio con­duct­ed copi­ous over­sight hear­ings on the dis­as­trous Boe­ing 737-MAX crash­es and lax FAA oversight.

The Boe­ing Everett plant is in Larsen’s district.

You need an iron butt to rep­re­sent Oregon’s Fourth Dis­trict in Congress.

DeFazio has faced, in his words, “the longest com­mute in the low­er forty-eight,” fly­ing to Port­land and then dri­ving more than one hun­dred miles to his Spring­field home. The dis­trict extends south from there. He has spent the equiv­a­lent of 435 forty-hour work weeks on the com­mute, DeFazio told reporters on Wednesday.

DeFazio began as an aide to Weaver, a law­mak­er famous for pre­dict­ing the dis­as­ter of the Wash­ing­ton Pub­lic Pow­er Sup­ply System’s nuclear pro­gram, and the sin­is­ter aspects of the Rajneesh cult after it set­tled in east­ern Ore­gon. DeFazio was a Lane Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er when Weaver retired from Con­gress in 1986.

He proved every bit as feisty as Jim Weaver, albeit more disciplined.

After the Supreme Court’s infa­mous 2010 Cit­i­zens Unit­ed rul­ing blew away cam­paign spend­ing bar­ri­ers, secre­tive non­prof­it groups start­ed run­ning attack ads against Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers of Con­gress. Some­thing called Con­cerned Tax­pay­ers of Amer­i­ca aired anti-DeFazio spots. It was only iden­ti­fied by a D.C. address and the name of one Jason Miller as treasurer.

DeFazio invit­ed reporters to walk over to Con­cerned Tax­pay­ers’ town­house and smoke out Jason Miller. The door was answered by a ten­ant who claimed no knowl­edge of the group or Jason Miller.

The march made a won­der­ful seg­ment on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

(Jason Miller is a Wash­ing­ton­ian who began work as an aide to Sen­a­tor Slade Gor­ton. He lat­er became a suc­cess­ful right-wing polit­i­cal tac­ti­cian. He emerged, after ini­tial­ly back­ing Ted Cruz, as a top aide to Don­ald Trump. He was can­di­date for White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor but side­lined due to a messy pater­ni­ty suit. He reemerged after last November’s elec­tion as spokesman for Trump.)

“It has been the great­est hon­or of my life to serve as con­gress­man for the Fourth Dis­trict of Ore­gon,” said DeFazio, who intends to come home from his lengthy com­mute. He will wit­ness the imple­men­ta­tion of his work on infra­struc­ture, although it will prob­a­bly be a long time before Amer­i­ca ful­ly achieves the “green” trans­for­ma­tion of its trans­porta­tion sys­tem he has long championed.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic-direct­ed redis­trict­ing of Oregon’s con­gres­sion­al bound­aries has made the Fourth Dis­trict more friend­ly to the D’s. Or as DeFazio put it, “My dis­trict has now been improved. It is now winnable by anoth­er Democrat.”

The first Demo­c­rat to announce, Ore­gon Labor Com­mis­sion­er Val Hoyle, offered an acknowl­edg­ment: “Nobody can fill Peter DeFazio’s shoes.”

The Repub­li­cans took a hard run at DeFazio in 2020. Their can­di­date was Alek Skar­latos, one of three young Amer­i­cans who over­pow­ered an armed ter­ror­ist on an Ams­ter­dam-to-Paris train in 2015, and lat­er played them­selves in the movie. DeFazio was out­spent but still pre­vailed, 54% to 46%, an eight point margin.

The voice of Peter DeFazio is leav­ing Con­gress but won’t be silenced. He has a book in him. “I want to write that,” he said Wednes­day. “For years, I gave a speech called, ‘Can Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy sur­vive? Even before Trump, it was pes­simistic. The chal­lenges are even greater now.”

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