Republicans and Democrats each have a choice to make in the May primary race for U.S. Congressional District 4.
In the Democratic primary, longtime incumbent Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, faces a challenge from Doyle Canning of Eugene.
The winner will face one of two Republicans running against each other in the May primary. Roseburg’s Alek Skarlatos is squaring off against Nelson Ijih of Eugene.
The News-Review is profiling candidates in contested primary races in the runup to ballots being mailed out this week.
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.
District 4 covers most of Southwestern Oregon, including Douglas, Coos, Curry, Lane and Linn counties, along with parts of Benton and Josephine counties.
Skarlatos, 27, has lived in the district for 11 years and moved here from Sacramento.
He lists his occupations as public speaker, author, actor and Army National Guard sniper. He attended Umpqua Community College.
He has never held political office, but made an unsuccessful run for Douglas County commissioner in 2018. In that race he garnered 35% of the vote, coming in second place to Roseburg businessman Tom Kress, who won the seat with 38% of the vote.
Skarlatos attended Air Assault School and Sniper School, achieving the rank of specialist. He was deployed for nine months in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army National Guard’s 186th Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2015.
Skarlatos is perhaps best known for his role in thwarting a terrorist attempt on a Paris-bound train in 2015.
Skarlatos and two of his friends took action after a gunman armed with an AK-47, a handgun and a box cutter emerged from a train bathroom, then fired shots on the train, which was headed to Paris from Amsterdam. Since then, he has received multiple awards, including the French Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the United States’ Soldier’s Medal and the medal of the City of Arras, France.
He also took third place on the ABC program “Dancing with the Stars,” and played himself in a Clint Eastwood movie about the train incident called “The 15:17 to Paris.”
Skarlatos supports gun rights, increased forest management and closing the border to immigration. He opposes socialized medicine of any kind.
Skarlatos said when he returned home from Afghanistan, he saw southwestern Oregonians struggling to make ends meet “under the failed leadership of the 33 year incumbent Peter DeFazio.”
Skarlatos said he’d do a better job than his primary opponent, too.
“I have lived in the district for more than a decade and understand the issues facing the people of Southwest Oregon and am the only candidate with the proven ability to lead and fight for the people,” Skarlatos said.
Ijih, 38, lists his occupations as computer engineer, tech business owner and community college teacher.
He is the owner of BlockMint Technologies, which develops blockchain applications. It’s a new technology that stores digital information and allows business to be conducted in a decentralized way. Cryptocurrency may be the best known application of blockchain technology.
He formerly taught at Portland Community College and the University of Phoenix.
He also formerly worked as a hardware and software engineer at Intel Corporation and Motorola and as a foreign service officer for the U.S. government.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree in computer science from Portland State University.
He has been an Oregonian for 12 years and lived one year in the district. He has never held political office.
He’s running with some specific policy goals in mind. He wants zero taxes on overtime pay and education reform that halves the time and cost of obtaining a college degree.
He also favors term limits, campaign finance reform and localizing ownership of state resources. He wants to suspend payroll taxes during the coronavirus crisis and create consumer tax incentives for carbon capture.
In response to our question about why voters should choose him rather than Skarlatos, he said, “Firstly, my primary opponent declined to participate in a debate organized by the League of Women Voters which effectively means he is denying voters a chance to hear from both of us who is better qualified and experienced. Secondly, Peter DeFazio said this about my primary opponent: ‘He came in third in ‘Dancing with the Stars’. That’s about the end of his credentials to be a member of Congress’”
And Ijih said he has a more well-rounded life and professional experience than DeFazio.
DeFazio, 72, has served District 4 in Congress for 33 years and has lived in Oregon for more than 45 years. He was born and raised in Massachusetts. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Tufts University and a master’s degree in gerontology and public counseling from the University of Oregon.
He served as a Lane County Commissioner prior to becoming a congressman, and is a veteran who served in the United States Air Force Reserve.
Inspired by his father, a high school teacher and wrestling coach, DeFazio has provided 273 scholarships for Oregon community college students.
“I want voters to know that I care about Oregon and have spent my life deeply invested in bettering our community,” he said.
He said he has proven he has the ability to get things done for his district, even during this time of extreme partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C.
“I am able to leverage my knowledge, experience, and Chairmanship of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to enact meaningful legislation and deliver the long-term changes that our country needs,” he said.
He cited work on wastewater infrastructure, harbor maintenance, jetty repair, fisheries protection and extending the Coos Bay rail line.
“I’ve also authored a 21st century transportation plan to transition our country to a fossil-fuel free future and create millions of family-wage jobs,” he said.
He said Canning, his primary opponent, hasn’t held a job in Oregon and only registered as a Democrat in June 2019—assertions Canning disputes, as detailed in her profile below.
DeFazio also said Canning would not win a general election.
He said none of the Republican candidates he might face in November support expanding affordable health care, taking action on climate change or comprehensive immigration reform. He said the Republican candidates also would not stand up to “the Trump administration and the corporate elite.”
“I believe that the federal government has a vital role to play in improving lives by leveling the playing fields so everyone can have a fair shot at achieving the American dream,” DeFazio said.
Canning, 40, has lived in the district five years and previously lived in the Boston area and Burlington, Vermont.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in teacher education from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and a law degree from the University of Oregon Law School.
In Oregon, Canning worked as a clerk to the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene and to federal District Court Judge Ann Aiken while in law school. She has also worked for OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon.
She lists her occupations as community organizer and mother of two. As an organizer, she said she worked with rural, working class communities and family farmers to build a movement taking on agribusiness corporation Monsanto and helping pass the first GMO seed labeling law in 2004.
She worked for EarthJustice in Seattle and Oil Change International, and she co-founded the Oakland, California-based nonprofit Center for Story-based Strategy and has served as its director for 10 years. She has never held political office.
“We need new leadership in Washington now to fight for national changes that benefit us, not big corporations. We are out of work, without healthcare, struggling to afford to keep a roof over our head and food on the table in the midst of this crisis,” she said.
“Meanwhile the salmon keep dying, a foreign fossil fuel company endangers us all by trying to build the Jordan Cove Pipeline in our backyards, while timber companies replace workers with machines and make profit for their Wall street backers while leaving our landscapes scarred, sucking our water dry and leaving us with added wildfire risk,” she said.
She wants to invest in a climate plan putting out-of-work loggers back to work in regenerative forestry, and create manufacturing jobs by turning he coast into a hub for developing offshore wind energy.
Canning said she has been a lifelong Democrat, though she was automatically registered without a party affiliation when she first signed up for her driver’s license. She said that was a clerical oversight she corrected promptly when it came to her attention.
Her values were shaped at an early age, she said. She was a survivor or domestic violence and recalls the police walking away when her mother asked for help. It was neighbors who stepped in.
“Our working class community knew that when the system fails us, we do not accept the failure. We look out for each other, and fight to better the system,” she said.
She said she can defeat DeFazio in the primary and either Republican in November because she has built a large grassroots coalition.