3rd District to remain blue but carry a lot less clout

Guest writer Randy Stapilus is a former reporter and editor who has turned to writing and publishing books from Carlton. He has devoted his career to covering politics and government in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. In addition to publishing books for himself and others through the Ridenbaugh Press, he maintains a blog at www.ridenbaugh.com. He also continues to write for print and online news publications, including the Salem-based Oregon Capital Chronicle, where this piece originally appeared. He can be reached at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

In the broad picture, the looming retirement of 14-term Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer will mean a change of personnel rather than a change of politics for Oregon’s 3rd District, dominated by Portland and its southern and eastern suburbs. The biggest impact may be on how much more junior the Oregon delegation is becoming.

After Blumenauer’s departure, Oregon’s senior House member will be Democrat Suzanne Bonamici. Next in seniority will be Republican Cliff Bentz, just halfway through his second term.

The other three all were elected for the first time last year. Oregon has built significant seniority in its senators, but will have less in the House for years to come.

Aside from seniority, Oregonians shouldn’t expect dramatic change in their 3rd District representation come January 2025. That’s not a commentary on Blumenauer but rather on his district.

Oregon’s 3rd has been for generations encompassed densely populated Portland. And for the last couple of generations, it has thus remained solidly liberal.

Rated plus-22 Democratic, it has proven the most partisan in the state in recent years. Even after the census-driven reapportionment, it tilts more strongly Democratic than Eastern Oregon’s 2nd District does Republican.

In the Northwest overall, it is second only to the central Seattle district in Democratic lean. It is more Democratic than any district is Republican, including those in beet-red Idaho to the east.

Blumenauer, who won the seat in 1996, following Ron Wyden’s move to the Senate, has had no tough elections since the day he was sworn in. He has not fallen below 67% of the vote in any general election, and primaries have not proven a problem for him either.

Considering the party registration in the district, Blumenauer was, if anything, slightly underperforming. But based on the numbers, the district overall seems satisfied.

So let no one suggest he has decided to retire at age 75 because of political difficulties. He could have stayed in for life if he’d so chosen.

Given a fresh choice, what kind of representative might the district want at this point?

The question doesn’t relate to the usual broader issues, the way it does, for example, in Oregon’s competitive 5th, which might choose a representative from either party. But within the context of left-of-center Democratic prospects, variations exist.

As Bluemenauer was quoted as saying, “There are literally a dozen people salivating at the prospect of getting in this race.”

And why not? Once past the primary, without any major errors, the Democratic nominee is likely to hold the seat without difficulty for a long time, as Blumenauer and Wyden both did.

But different candidates – and two have already formally announced – could bring different approaches.

One of the first names to surface was that of Deborah Kafoury, former chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

Like Blumenauer, she has been deeply involved in Portland-area government and the state Legislature for many years. It’s easy to imagine that her service in the district might look a lot like his: unmistakably liberal, and supportive of much that’s on the metro area’s agenda, but not particularly cantankerous or high profile – a safe establishment choice. But she has ruled a run out.

Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, whose sister, Pramila Jayapal, represents that super-Democratic central Seattle district, immediately jumped in. She gave up her seat on the board of commissioners so she could put her full focus on the congressional seat.

Pramila Jayapal is more a national political figure, more an ideological leader in Congress, than Blumenauer has been. She chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The Seattle representative has been a strong supporter of her sister, saying, “I am really proud of her. She did a lot of work listening to organizations dealing with housing and homelessness and she has very clear values. We have very similar values around treating people with respect and giving people a hand up.”

But that’s not to say that Susheela Jayapal would follow exactly the same path. So far, her focus has remained largely on local issues.

Portland Rep. Travis Nelson has joined Kafoury in bowing out. However, Reps. Maxine Dexter, an emergency room physician, and Thuy Tran, an optometrist, are still eyeing the race. And Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales has joined Jayapal in jumping in.

We can expect the next representative from Oregon’s 3rd to be a liberal Democrat, but have yet to see what kind of liberal Democrat the district will prefer this time around. The next few months figure to tell the tale.


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