Nov 1, 2023 - News

Retiring Rep. Blumenauer wants to help fix Portland

A black and white photo with a young man in a suit and his hand on the bible, and the same man, older with grey hair, speaking at a microphone in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, being sworn-in to Congress for the first time in 1996, and outside the U.S. Capitol at a news conference in 2019. Photos: Maureen Keating/CQ-Roll Call and Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, both via Getty Images

The congressional seat held by Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer — Oregon's 3rd Congressional district — is up for grabs.

What's happening: Blumenauer announced he won't seek reelection in 2024 — giving him about a year left in office.

  • He has represented most of Portland's east side as well as part of Clackamas County and much of the Columbia River Gorge in Congress since 1996.

Why it matters: Although this open seat won't likely change the makeup of the House of Representatives — because it is in solid Democratic territory — whoever replaces Blumenauer is less likely to be caught in the turmoil of two-year election cycles and potentially able to take more risks than a swing seat candidate might.

Catch up quick: Blumenauer has represented Portland in local, state, or federal office for more than half a century.

What they're saying: "Earl was always a member of Congress who put policy first" political consultant Kari Chisholm, who worked with Blumenauer for two decades, tells Axios. "He leaves huge progressive shoes to fill."

Zoom in: Blumenauer wants to focus now on helping solve Portland's complex problems.

  • He tells Axios he worked "throughout my career to make Portland one of the most livable cities in the country."
  • "No one's going to confuse us with that now, but I think that there are opportunities for us to turn the corner and I'm looking forward to being a part of that."

Details: He suggests he could fill a variety of roles, from drawing attention to investment opportunities to accessing funds allocated by Congress in areas such as renewable energy.

  • Asked if he'd consider running for mayor, he had a one-word answer: No.

Zoom out: Willamette Week reports that several candidates are either being recruited or seeking support, including former Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, current Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales, and state Rep. Travis Nelson, who represents much of North and parts of NE Portland in the Oregon legislature.

Context: "A lot of Oregon Democratic or progressive donors will see a wealth of choices in this race," Portland-based political analyst Jake Weigler tells Axios.

  • "I think the successful candidate had to figure out how to access support that's not available to the other candidates."

The intrigue: The field to replace Blumenauer may turn out to be slimmer than it might have a few years ago, Weigler tells Axios, now that Portland's future city council will expand to twelve seats.

  • "City council is kind of the new bright shiny object" in politics, Weigler says, particularly with the city's public campaign finance program.

What's next: Candidates running for Blumenauer's seat can file as early as Jan. 22 and as late as March 14, 2024.

  • Candidates can publicly declare their intent to run anytime.

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