Roseburg Republican Alek Skarlatos and Springfield Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio appear headed for a rematch in 2022 — with a twist.
The big question mark in the U.S. House District 4 election is redistricting. With the Legislature working out new boundaries for Congressional districts this year, it’s anybody’s guess what the district will look like next year.
It’s even possible that the two candidates could wind up drawn into different districts. In that case, DeFazio wouldn’t face Skarlatos at all in 2022.
The two candidates are a study in contrasts.
Skarlatos, a 28-year-old veteran with no government experience, gained fame for his role in thwarting a terrorist attempt on a Paris-bound train in 2015.
Skarlatos has authored a book, starred in a Clint Eastwood movie and was until recently employed by the Freedom Foundation, a right-wing think tank that primarily focuses on union busting — or educating workers on their right to leave unions, depending on your point of view.
“I believe in freedom of choice for people when it comes to joining unions, and I believe in local government and state’s rights at every turn, and that’s really all the Freedom Foundation did was educate people about their rights as workers and as union members,” Skarlatos said.
Skarlatos said he recently quit his job at the foundation to focus full time on the 2022 campaign.
DeFazio, a 74-year-old who has served in Congress a whopping 34 years, is the chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
He was was less interested in speculating on the upcoming election than in talking about the American Jobs Plan, a massive investment in rebuilding America’s crumbling Eisenhower-era infrastructure.
The plan includes investment in roads, water, rail, climate change resilience, electrifying the highways, rural broadband and job training.
“That would create an extra couple million jobs and so we want to get people who’ve been left behind, particularly in rural areas, we want to get them into those jobs,” he said.
In 2020, DeFazio beat Skarlatos by 52% to 46%. It was the hardest fought race of his career, though he still won by a comfortable margin.
But Skarlatos expressed optimism about his chances next year. He said he’s starting earlier, has a better team than last year and fundraising is strong.
Skarlatos also anticipates that he will be running in a more Republican district regardless of whether he faces DeFazio next year.
He thinks redistricting will either push DeFazio’s district into a more Republican area or the more Republican areas will be drawn into a different district.
“I think whatever they do we’re going to stand a much better chance than we did last time,” he said.
DeFazio said because the state will add a sixth district, his district will shrink by about 100,000 people.
“How it’s going to change will be up to the Legislature and then ultimately it’s going to all go to the courts. So we’re a long way from having any idea what it’s going to look like,” he said.
He said one advantage for him in 2022 is that former President Donald Trump is not on the ballot.
He also said funding isn’t everything. Skarlatos and the super PACs that supported him outspent him two to one in 2020 and still didn’t win, he said.
“I would say it doesn’t bode well in a non-Trump year in a similar district, but again we don’t know what the district will be,” he said.
Prior to Skarlatos’ run, state Rep. Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, had unsuccessfully attempted five times to unseat DeFazio.
Skarlatos said he doesn’t plan to follow Robinson’s example and run multiple times if he doesn’t win this time around.
DeFazio said he doesn’t know how many terms he will continue to seek reelection.
“I always decide one term at a time,” he said.
According to Skarlatos, DeFazio has “run this district into the ground,” focusing too much on national priorities and looking inward at his own district too little.
“If that’s something you want, then keep voting for him, but I think to be honest people out here in the rural parts of the district have not fared so well under DeFazio,” he said.
Skarlatos said timber issues remain his top priority, followed by lowering the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs and reducing government spending and the national debt.
DeFazio said while he is chairperson of one of the most powerful committees in the House, Skarlatos would not be chairing any committees if he were elected.
In addition to his work on the transportation plan, DeFazio said he has supported COVID-19 rescue funds that Skarlatos opposed.
The most recent plan he supported provided aid to individuals and small businesses as well as a child benefit he said will cut child poverty in half.
“Every single Republican voted against it and Alek is in the same camp,” he said.
DeFazio supported the Affordable Care Act, which he said has brought lower drug prices for 150,000 seniors in his district.
Another key difference between the two candidates is their views on the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol, in which protesters broke into the building and some committed crimes including assaulting police and vandalism.
Skarlatos, in an interview with Newsmax about a week after the event, said his primary concern was that the media would demonize Trump supporters.
He told The News-Review this week he thinks some unfortunate things happened, but that every major person who did something bad that day has already been arrested and the FBI is “still going after grandmothers who were simply in attendance.”
He said many people simply walked in and didn’t know the doors had been forced and those people shouldn’t be charged with trespassing.
“I think the FBI probably has bigger things to worry about nowadays,” he said.
Asked who he thought won the 2020 election, Skarlatos said, “I have no comment.”
DeFazio, on the other hand, lived through the events of Jan. 6 and spent the duration of the riot locked down in his office with bear spray at hand.
He said 140 police officers were injured that day, one lost his vision and one died of concussion wounds.
DeFazio said while some who broke into the Capitol were simply protesting, others were involved in a planned attempt to overthrow the election of President Joe Biden by stealing the antique wooden boxes holding the election certification letters from the states.
He said there are two camps of Republicans in Congress right now, those who falsely believe the election was stolen from Trump and those who know it wasn’t but claim otherwise because they fear losing Trump’s support.
Skarlatos has that support too, he said.
“So either Alek is among those who have bought into the lies or he is one of those who is promoting the lie,” DeFazio said.