It’s not easy to take on a sitting U.S. senator, but four Republicans — including one from Roseburg — will compete in the May election to do just that.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s potential challengers include Paul Romero, Jr. of Roseburg, Jo Rae Perkins of Albany, Robert Schwartz of Springfield, and John Verbeek of Portland.
The News-Review is profiling candidates in contested primary races in the runup to ballots being mailed out this week. Those running unopposed in their primaries won’t be featured this time around, but will get their turn closer to the November election.
These stories are compiled from excerpts of responses to a questionnaire we sent each candidate, supplemented by information publicly available about the candidates and our prior interviews with them.
PAUL ROMERO, JR.
Romero, 53, was born in New Iberia, Louisiana.
He spent part of his childhood in Oregon, but later returned to Louisiana. He came back to Oregon in 2014, moving first to Eastern Oregon and then to Roseburg in March 2019.
Romero is a single father who raised five children, and said he put himself through college working three jobs. He said his work experience includes changing pipe, bucking bales, shoveling manure, cutting wood and becoming a project manager and investment executive.
He is currently the president and CEO of Youwalk Today, Inc. The company is a startup based on a piece of equipment he has described as a cross between a wheelchair and a walker. It was invented by local artist Oksana Davyda.
Romero received a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University and also studied at the University of Louisiana, where he played on the Ragin’ Cajuns rugby team.
He served as a non-commissioned petty officer first class cryptologic technician in the U.S. Navy.
He is a precinct committee person.
While living in Prineville, he made two unsuccessful primary challenges against Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden in House District 2, winning 19.9% of the vote in 2016 and 16.5% of the vote in 2018.
Romero said Merkley has been a “dismal failure” for Oregon, and that the senator “by all standards and measures, is a Socialist.”
“(Merkley) supports Cap & Trade that hurts ALL Oregonians. He supports the New Green Deal which would effectively destroy the American economy and end the greatest country the world has ever known,” Romero said in a questionnaire response to our question why he feels he’d do a better job.
Romero calls himself the antithesis of the incumbent, saying he is “America First, Oregon First.”
“I will protect our youth as they educate themselves and prepare for careers while preventing cheap labor from being imported to take their place. I will gain the ear of our President so that forest management and our timber industry can recover,” he said.
Schwartz, 53, of Springfield has lived in Oregon 21 years and moved here from Chicago.
He is a physical trainer and does not have a college degree.
Schwartz has never held political office, but ran for state Senate District 6 in 2018, garnering 40.7% of the vote and losing to Democrat Lee Beyer. He ran in the state House District 12 race in 2016, garnering 37.5% of the vote and losing to Democrat John Lively.
“Today I am inspired to run for federal office because there are some very simple policy changes that will have transformative effect on climate change, health care and firearm safety for starters,” he said.
He said these issues won’t be solved by government regulation, but by Americans having a “healthy relationship” with their guns, the environment and their bodies.
Beyer introduced Senate Bill 801 during the 2019 session on behalf of Schwartz, his former election opponent. It had not made it out of committee when the legislature adjourned at the end of the session.
Schwartz said the bill would have taught first graders to stop, don’t touch, run and tell an adult if they saw an unsecured firearm.
Schwartz said his plan for winning the general election is to “speak in the currency of the liberal with the ideology of citizen empowerment and self responsibility, the attributes that conservatives hold highest.”
In addition to gun safety, Schwartz said he cares about health care but wants to alter food stamps so they don’t cover soda that contributes to diabetes and tooth decay.
He also cares about climate change, he said. But he wants biologists and timber owners to work together to make every available acre into a carbon sequestration zone, harvesting trees when they reach their peak level of sequestration.
Schwartz wants to create millions of Oregon and American jobs by using Oregon forests as “the world’s most efficient carbon vacuum.” He believes the wood manufacturing industry can reduce the need for Chinese plastics, and that an invigorated timber industry can serve as a model for the nation for rebuilding manufacturing in less than one generation.
JO RAE PERKINS
Perkins, 63, of Albany has lived in Oregon for 44 years. She moved here from Southern California one year out of high school.
Perkins has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Oregon State University.
She is a semi-retired licensed property and casualty agent.
She is a precinct committee person and is an appointed member of the Albany Human Relations Commission.
She’s also a former secretary and ethics committee member for the Albany Association of Realtors and a former board president of the Albany Visitors Association and former secretary and director of the Greater Albany Rotary.
Perkins had originally filed to run for the Republican nomination to House District 4, but dropped out of that race and switched to a Senate run.
She had previously made unsuccessful runs in the Republican primary for House District 4 in 2016 and 2018. She garnered 21% of the Republican vote in 2018 and 32.2% in 2016, losing to Art Robinson both times.
Perkins also made an unsuccessful run in the Republican primary for the Senate position in 2014. In that race, she garnered 2.8% of the Republican vote, and Monica Wehby went on to take the nomination.
Of her 2020 run Perkins said, “This is what I feel I am called to do in this stage of my life, is to be a US Senator.”
She called Merkley a far-left progressive, and said he cares more about letting illegal immigrants into the country than protecting Americans.
“He cares more about those who live in the Portland Metro area than he does about you,” she said.
Perkins said Merkley wants more federal government rules. And she contrasted that with herself, saying she would analyze any proposed bill to see if it was constitutional.
She described herself as a Christian and a constitutional conservative.
“I am the person who is wiling if necessary to go toe to toe to fight for your rights. I have the boldness of a lion and will speak up when others are afraid to,” she said.
Verbeek lives in Portland, and this also isn’t his first run for office.
He was the Republican nominee for representative in U.S. House District 1 in 2018, but lost to Democrat Suzanne Bonamici on a 64% to 32% vote. District 1 covers the northwestern part of the state, including Clatsop, Columbia, Washington and Yamhill counties.
In 2016, Verbeek ran for the state House, but lost to Democrat Mitch Greenlick. In 2012 and 2014, he made runs for the state Senate, but lost both elections to Democrat Elizabeth Steiner Hayward.
According to his candidate filing form, Verbeek’s current occupation is life insurance and strategies. That document also states Verbeek’s prior work experience includes more than three decades in financial services. He’s also worked as a business development and relationship manager and an institutional credit analyst and risk officer.
Verbeek is originally from the Netherlands, and holds a bachelor’s degree in international business from the Nijenrode, Netherlands School of Business. He also holds a master’s degree from the University of Georgia.
His prior political experience includes serving as a precinct committee person since 2008.
Verbeek said he is running for office because he believes voters need an alternative to Merkley, who he said seems to look to government for all answers.
"We talk about freedom all the time, but yet we keep voting for almost ever tax increase to 'let government do it'. How much government control is enough?" he said.
He said voters could expect him to vote against further government control, uphold constitutional rights and support new bills that are revenue neutral.
Verbeek also said having four Republicans in the race for Merkley's seat gives voters more choice and "the messaging of each of us hopefully helps to promote a more genuine discussion about freedom and justice in Oregon, and less government."
"There are some differences among the four Republican candidates, but these pale in comparison what to expect from government should the incumbent candidate and Oregon's public sector unions be given the green light by voters to continue their dominance," he said.