NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Monday, October 30th, 2023

Longtime United States Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon to retire in 2024

One of the Pacif­ic North­west­’s longest-serv­ing mem­bers of Con­gress has decid­ed it’s time to pass the torch. Earl Blu­me­nauer, sev­en­ty-five, declared today he won’t seek reelec­tion as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Ore­gon’s 3rd Dis­trict in 2024, bring­ing a dis­tin­guished career of pub­lic ser­vice to a close after half a century.

“For fifty years, I have served in elect­ed office at every lev­el — as a State Leg­is­la­tor, Mult­nom­ah Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er, Port­land City Coun­cil mem­ber, and for twen­ty-sev­en years as a mem­ber of Con­gress,” said Blu­me­nauer in a state­ment announc­ing his retire­ment. “It is a dif­fi­cult deci­sion. Par­tic­u­lar­ly after the amaz­ing suc­cess of the last sev­er­al years. But sim­ply said, it is time to con­tin­ue my life’s mis­sion with­out the bur­den of day-to-day politics.”

“I have ded­i­cat­ed my career to cre­at­ing liv­able com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple are safe, healthy, and eco­nom­i­cal­ly secure,” Blu­me­nauer noted.

“This mis­sion has guid­ed my involve­ment in Con­gress on a wide range of issues. I may best be known in Port­land for work on light rail, street­cars, and bicy­cles. But our work also includ­ed crit­i­cal issues of war and peace, cham­pi­oning the fight to end the failed war on drugs, help­ing to write the [Patient Pro­tec­tion and] Afford­able Care Act, res­cu­ing inde­pen­dent restau­rants, food and farm pol­i­cy, ani­mal wel­fare, and writ­ing the sin­gle largest invest­ment in renew­able ener­gy in history.”

“I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing cham­pi­oning liv­able com­mu­ni­ties start­ing right here in Port­land and being a resource and a part­ner for the next generation.”

The affa­ble Blu­me­nauer is known for being a bow-tie wear­er and for his prin­ci­pled stands on issues. He became the most senior mem­ber of Ore­gon’s U.S. House del­e­ga­tion fol­low­ing the retire­ment of his friend Peter DeFazio at the end of the last Con­gress. All of the state’s oth­er Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tives have few­er than ten years of ser­vice; most joined Con­gress with­in the last five years.

The 3rd Dis­trict is deep blue — it’s Ore­gon’s most Demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­trict, encom­pass­ing most of the City of Port­land as well as Gre­sham and Trout­dale, which means Democ­rats won’t have a prob­lem hold­ing it in 2024.

The cur­rent incar­na­tion of the dis­trict, which Blu­me­nauer has rep­re­sent­ed since he took over for Ron Wyden (one of Ore­gon’s U.S. Sen­a­tors since the mid-1990s) also includes Hood Riv­er, Mount Hood and its foothills, where com­mu­ni­ties like Sandy, Esta­ca­da, Bor­ing, and Dam­as­cus are locat­ed. The 3rd bor­ders three of Ore­gon’s five oth­er con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts: the 1st, the 5th, and the 2nd. It does not bor­der the 6th, though por­tions of the 6th are in close prox­im­i­ty to it.

Ore­gon Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers began offer­ing trib­utes to Blu­me­nauer after his announce­ment, which con­firmed months of spec­u­la­tion he might not run again.

“Since I was in high school, Earl Blu­me­nauer has been a pow­er­ful force in the pol­i­cy and pol­i­tics of Ore­gon and Amer­i­ca,” said Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley. “He is a nation­al leader on issues from urban trans­porta­tion and hous­ing to cli­mate and cannabis. I so thank him for his over fifty years of pub­lic service.”

“From the first time I met him to now, it’s always been a plea­sure to be his part­ner fight­ing for projects and pro­grams ben­e­fit­ing Ore­go­ni­ans. He has made his home­town of Port­land, and all of Ore­gon and the coun­try a bet­ter place.”

“I have been for­tu­nate to call Earl Blu­me­nauer a men­tor and a friend since I first ran for Con­gress,” said Blu­me­nauer’s col­league Suzanne Bonam­i­ci, who rep­re­sents the 1st Dis­trict. “The Port­land region, the State of Ore­gon, and the coun­try have all ben­e­fit­ed enor­mous­ly from Earl’s vision and leadership.”

“Through­out his many years of pub­lic ser­vice, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Blumenauer
has been a con­sis­tent & vocal advo­cate for Ore­gon val­ues,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Andrea Sali­nas, who rep­re­sents the state’s newest con­gres­sion­al dis­trict. “I know I speak for the entire Ore­gon del­e­ga­tion when I say Earl will be great­ly missed in Con­gress. I wish him & his fam­i­ly all the best in this new chapter.”

One of Blu­me­nauer’s two Repub­li­can col­leagues swift­ly offered her thanks, too.

“Thank you for your decades of ser­vice to Ore­go­ni­ans, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Blu­me­nauer,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Lori Chavez-DeRe­mer, who cur­rent­ly rep­re­sents the 5th Dis­trict and suc­ceed­ed Kurt Schrad­er at the begin­ning of 2023. “I appre­ci­at­ed the advice you gave me when I was just get­ting start­ed ear­li­er this year, and I look for­ward to serv­ing out the remain­der of this Con­gress with you.”

Blu­me­nauer’s office cit­ed the fol­low­ing as his accomplishments:

  • Lead­ing the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee to craft pro­vi­sions includ­ed in the sin­gle largest mea­sure to com­bat the cli­mate cri­sis in Amer­i­can his­to­ry: the Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act.
  • Secur­ing more than $1.5 tril­lion in the Bipar­ti­san Infra­struc­ture Law, the largest invest­ment in rebuild­ing and renew­ing Amer­i­ca in his­to­ry. This includ­ed his­toric amounts of fund­ing for active trans­porta­tion: a 70% increase in bike and pedes­tri­an fund­ing and the cre­ation of a $1 bil­lion Safe Streets and Roads for All program.
  • Sav­ing more than 100,000 restau­rants dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic by cre­at­ing the $28.6 bil­lion Restau­rant Revi­tal­iza­tion Fund.
  • Expand­ing health care cov­er­age for more than 500,000 Ore­go­ni­ans through the Afford­able Care Act, includ­ing a new Medicare ben­e­fit for end-of-life care planning.
  • Pro­vid­ing key lead­er­ship in oppo­si­tion to America’s mis­ad­ven­tures in the trag­ic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the late Sen­a­tors John McCain and Ted Kennedy, he passed leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a path­way to legal per­ma­nent sta­tus for Iraqi and Afghan nation­als who direct­ly sup­port­ed the U.S. mil­i­tary mis­sion in their country.
  • As a local elect­ed offi­cial and mem­ber of Con­gress, Blu­me­nauer was respon­si­ble for the devel­op­ment of Portland’s inno­v­a­tive tran­sit sys­tem, includ­ing the light rail and street­car sys­tem. This includes build­ing out Portland’s bike net­work, mak­ing Port­land inter­na­tion­al­ly rec­og­nized as one of the nation’s most liv­able cities.

Blu­me­nauer also:

  • Became Con­gress’ lead­ing cham­pi­on in end­ing the failed war on drugs. He found­ed the Con­gres­sion­al Cannabis Cau­cus as a forum to edu­cate mem­bers of Con­gress about fed­er­al cannabis pol­i­cy ini­tia­tives, authored the leg­isla­tive blue­print for fed­er­al legal­iza­tion and has cam­paigned in every suc­cess­ful state legal­iza­tion effort.
  • Cre­at­ed a nation­al bike move­ment shap­ing com­mu­ni­ties large and small. He is rec­og­nized as one of the top 25 change mak­ers in cycling his­to­ry. He found­ed the Con­gres­sion­al Bicy­cle Cau­cus to bring mem­bers of Con­gress togeth­er to prac­tice bike-par­ti­san­ship. Since estab­lished in 1996, the Cau­cus has suc­cess­ful­ly secured a $2.45 bil­lion increase in fed­er­al fund­ing for bik­ing and walk­ing and cre­at­ed a tax ben­e­fit for com­muters bik­ing to work.
  • Became rec­og­nized as an envi­ron­men­tal cham­pi­on for pro­tect­ing resources across Amer­i­ca. Here in Ore­gon, his leg­is­la­tion pro­tect­ed 127,000 acres of wilder­ness and 80 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Mt. Hood Nation­al For­est and Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge, pre­serv­ing these spe­cial places for gen­er­a­tions to come.
  • Authored the Sen­a­tor Paul Simon Water for the World Act, the most com­pre­hen­sive piece of inter­na­tion­al water pol­i­cy to date affect­ing the lives of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple. Blu­me­nauer is rec­og­nized as a pre­em­i­nent cham­pi­on for water and sanitation.
  • Cham­pi­oned major leg­is­la­tion to stop imports of ille­gal­ly har­vest­ed tim­ber from around the world into the Unit­ed States. This became a mod­el for coun­tries around the world.
  • Cre­at­ed the Small Starts pro­gram to help street­car projects across the coun­try receive fed­er­al fund­ing and tech­ni­cal assis­tance. This pro­gram led to over 22 street­car projects around the coun­try so far, includ­ing three in Portland.

Though Blu­me­nauer’s release men­tions his advo­ca­cy for light rail, it does­n’t men­tion his involve­ment in the found­ing of Rail~Volution, the annu­al tran­sit and mobil­i­ty con­fer­ence, now known as Mpac (Mobil­i­ty / Com­mu­ni­ty / Possibility).

Rail~Volution, which NPI staff have attend­ed in past years, has been a bright light for bet­ter and more ubiq­ui­tous tran­sit dur­ing the lat­est chap­ter of a very car-cen­tric era in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. We can’t thank Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Blu­me­nauer enough for his lead­er­ship in advanc­ing this impor­tant cause.

Blu­me­nauer spoke to The Willamette Week at length pri­or to cir­cu­lat­ing the news release con­vey­ing his deci­sion to leave Con­gress. He knows he’s giv­ing up an oppor­tu­ni­ty to poten­tial­ly be in the major­i­ty in 2025 and 2026.

“I do think we are going to take con­trol. I’m quite con­fi­dent of that,” Blu­me­nauer told WWeek dur­ing his sit-down. “But it’s not cer­tain to me that the things that I care about in terms of inter­na­tion­al water and san­i­ta­tion, cannabis reform, flood insur­ance, cli­mate change, trans­porta­tion safe­ty — I’m not cer­tain that that the best way to make a con­tri­bu­tion to that is in Congress.”

Blu­me­nauer is increas­ing­ly con­cerned about unchecked drug use in Port­land and says he’ll be turn­ing his atten­tion to improv­ing pub­lic safe­ty and com­mu­ni­ty well-being in the Rose City after he leaves Con­gress at the end of next year.

Blu­me­nauer also told WWeek he won’t be get­ting involved in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry to pick his suc­ces­sor. That means no endorsement.

“Can­di­dates either being recruit­ed or active­ly seek­ing sup­port include for­mer Mult­nom­ah Coun­ty Chair Deb­o­rah Kafoury, Mult­nom­ah Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Susheela Jaya­pal, state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Travis Nel­son (D‑Portland), and Gre­sham City Coun­cilor Eddy Morales,” the week­ly explained.

Nel­son hap­pens to be one of Ore­gon’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee mem­bers and is con­sid­ered by many to be a ris­ing star in the party.

Ore­gon will hold its 2024 pri­ma­ry on Tues­day, May 21st. Whichev­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic hope­ful secures the par­ty’s nom­i­na­tion for Con­gress in the 3rd Dis­trict is extreme­ly like­ly to go on to become Blu­me­nauer’s suc­ces­sor in November.

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