WASHINGTON — Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., declared his retirement Friday and will not seek re-election to his 31st term in Congress.
DeFazio, 72, has served eight terms in the House representing Oregon’s first district. His retirement effectively ends the viability of Democrats who are looking to win Republican-held seats in the House and Senate.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., both issued statements welcoming DeFazio to retirement.
“We’ve done this together, and have helped Oregonians of all ages, genders, and backgrounds,” Pelosi said. “His leadership and passion for our collective future will be sorely missed, and he will always be a friend.”
DeFazio’s younger brother, Jerry, has represented Oregon’s 12th District in the House since 1993.
DeFazio, who championed legislation to protect the environment and military veterans, has been considered an advocate for issues important to working-class voters. He said the need to take action on mounting economic problems can be a compelling reason to maintain public service.
“I believe it’s not about parties,” DeFazio said. “I’m standing up with middle-class people, people who worked hard, and saw their life values violated, so you know my kids can have better lives than I have.”
Though his departure is expected to give Republicans an opening to win the seat, DeFazio said Oregonians need to find new leaders, including new candidates.
“We have more than enough great qualified people to serve,” he said. “But you have to elect them.”
He says he hopes Oregon’s congressional delegation can think of one or two candidates in the next couple of months to run for his seat. He says he will endorse whomever his party chooses, regardless of the candidate’s party.
It is far from certain who will replace DeFazio in the House. In last year’s midterm elections, all the Republican incumbents in Washington and Oregon held their seats. Just two of the Democrats serving in Washington state also won their open seats.
It is likely at least one of them, DeFazio, will not return to Congress in 2021.
“Whatever happens in the year 2016, whatever happens next year, we have a lot to show for the work we’ve done over the past 14 years and more to do over the next 14 years,” DeFazio said.
He said he hopes to work with new Oregon leaders to influence policy initiatives and to continue pushing for the Affordable Care Act, Social Security and Medicare.
There have been recent retirement announcements by two other prominent Democrats. On Thursday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., announced he will not seek re-election. On Tuesday, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said she would not seek a second term.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever announced my retirement before my term ends,” DeFazio said. “There is no anger, there is no enmity, there is no animosity. No one has stopped talking to me since it was announced.”
DeFazio said he will be spending his retirement pursuing other interests. He declined to say what those interests might be, citing his right to privacy under federal law.
His office said he wants to continue working for environmental progress, including the Clean Power Plan, as well as pushing for immigration reform, tackling climate change and protecting Wall Street reform.
“I will certainly help everybody that’s going to be [running for] the seat that I left,” he said. “I will certainly help (Sen.) Ron Wyden,” he said, referring to the only Democrat in Washington State’s U.S. Senate delegation.