The man who has represented Lane County and much of southwestern Oregon in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 35 years will not seek reelection in 2022.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio announced Wednesday he will be leaving Congress when his term ends in January 2023. DeFazio, a senior Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is leaving at a time when his party is expected to struggle with keeping control of the House and after surviving an unusually close reelection last year.
"I need a little more time for myself, for my health and well-being, for my wife, my family, and the things I love in Oregon," DeFazio said during a news conference Wednesday. "There's a lot to do, another year to go. I'll be 75½ when I finish this term, and it's time to pass the torch."
DeFazio said recent legislative successes accomplished some of his longtime goals.
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"The last year and a half has been a whirlwind, and I've gotten a lot of long-awaited goals done, along with all my past accomplishments, just in the last year," DeFazio said.
Born in Massachusetts, DeFazio now lives in Springfield. DeFazio was first elected to Congress in 1986 after previously serving on the Lane County Board of Commissioners.
Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said DeFazio will leave a "deep and broad legacy" in the local community. She highlighted several Eugene-area projects for which DeFazio helped secure funding, including a recent $19 million grant to help transform Franklin Boulevard into a more friendly place for cyclists and pedestrians.
"It is hard to imagine what this community would have been like without his service over the last 36 years," Vinis said. "He has been a champion for our transportation needs, for the rights of workers. He has held fast to building a community that offers people opportunity, that protects our environment and that looks to a future of fairness and equity."
While Vinis said she thinks there will be no shortage of qualified candidates in the Democratic Party to run for his seat, she was sad to hear of his departure considering his institutional and historical knowledge of the area.
"To be honest, we would like him to stay in that role forever," she said.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden also thanked DeFazio in a statement, saying he looks forward to continue working together until his term is up.
"Oregonians always know with full confidence that Peter stands proudly in the vanguard of the battle for good jobs, strong transportation and ensuring everybody gets a fair shake," the Oregon Democrat said.
After retiring, DeFazio said he hopes to take more time to go hiking in wilderness areas he's supported such as Devil's Staircase and Copper Salmon. He noted he's also considering writing a book about "what's wrong with America and how we might fix it."
A focus on transportation
DeFazio has been involved in transportation issues since first being elected to Congress and established a reputation as a hard-nosed leader on those issues.
DeFazio was instrumental in the recent passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that got bipartisan support in Congress. DeFazio shepherded the bill through the House, though the Senate removed key provisions before it was sent back for final passage.
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Though DeFazio expressed disappointment some provisions were cut, such as one which would have required states spend new federal highway funding on maintenance backlogs before building new extensions, he praised the bill's passage as long overdue.
The infrastructure bill represents the largest single investment in transit in U.S. history.
Passing the infrastructure bill was one of the main accomplishments he told reporters he wanted to leave as his legacy, along with the passage of the Water Resources Development Act in December 2020, which includes a provision to ensure harbor maintenance funds are actually used for that purpose.
DeFazio led the Congressional investigation of Boeing in 2020 after airplanes made by the company crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people. The investigation found Boeing production pressures, design flaws and other factors contributed to the crashes.
Praise for the congressman
“Chairman Peter DeFazio is an absolute force for progress, whose 36 years of effective leadership in the House will leave a legacy that will benefit the Congress and Country for decades to come," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "For decades, the people of southwest Oregon have had an outstanding champion for jobs, clean energy and conservation. Our Democratic Caucus will miss a trusted voice and valued friend."
DeFazio was lauded Wednesday by conservation groups for work that began with funding west Eugene wetlands restoration and ended with the latest infrastructure bill, into which were written measures meant to mitigate climate change across the country.
"We are all indebted to Chairman DeFazio for his leadership and congratulate him on his well-deserved retirement after a career of commitment to wild places, the wildlife that call them home and tireless work on behalf of public health and safety," President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation Collin O’Mara said in a statement Wednesday.
Chris Wig, chair of the Democratic Party of Lane County, said in an interview he thinks DeFazio's departure will be sorely felt in Congress and locally.
"It's the end of an era, and whoever steps in is going to have some big shoes to fill, and his absence will certainly be felt, both in our district and also by his colleagues in the House of Representatives," Wig said Wednesday.
A tough election in 2020
DeFazio faced a tough reelection campaign in his reliably Democratic district last year.
Alek Skarlatos, a well-funded Republican newcomer who gained fame for his part in stopping a terrorist attack on a European train in 2015 and playing himself in a movie about the event, challenged him, but DeFazio won the election with 51.56% of the vote versus Skarlatos' 46.22%.
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Skarlatos announced this year he plans to try claiming the seat again in 2022.
Asked if the campaign took a toll and impacted DeFazio's decision to retire, he said it was exhausting to manage work as chairman while also flying back to campaign in a hard-fought race.
"It's tiring; to have to be chairman of a committee and have incredible national responsibilities and demands here, and then have the longest commute home to campaign," he told The Register-Guard.
From a political standpoint, DeFazio said he felt like it was also a good time to leave office and said he would endorse and work hard to help the next Democratic nominee succeed.
"Now my district is about five points better for Democrats, so it's a time when I feel good that another Democrat can win," he said.
One of the first Democrat candidates to announce a run to replace DeFazio is Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, who released a statement on her intention to to run.
"Nobody can fill Peter DeFazio's shoes, but I am determined to do all I can to ensure that his dedication to our people and communities, his strong principled leadership, and his track record of putting the needs of hard-working Oregonians first will continue," she wrote.
DeFazio is one of 19 Democrats not planning to run again for their seats in the House. He is the third House committee chair to announce plans not to seek reelection in 2022.
Contact reporter Adam Duvernay at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @DuvernayOR.
Louis Krauss covers breaking news for The Register-Guard. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @LouisKraussNews.
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Oregon's Rep. Peter DeFazio will not seek reelection to House in 2022