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.
- 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.