It’s gearing up to be a big year for Oregon politics. One race particularly important to people who keep their eyes on transportation and infrastructure issues is the contest for outgoing U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio’s seat in Oregon’s 4th district.
“There is an urgency to electing leaders for our climate who are clear-eyed about the stakes of this moment in time. That’s who I am, and that’s who I’ve always been.” — Doyle Canning
One candidate in particular, Eugene attorney Doyle Canning, has gained momentum among climate activists across the state for her embrace of clean energy and history of climate advocacy. Of course, not every Oregonian can vote in the 4th district. But given the legacy DeFazio leaves behind, this seat is worth paying attention to.
DeFazio has served in U.S. Congress for 35 years, representing the district centered around liberal college towns Eugene and Corvallis that also includes the rural southern coastal region. He currently serves as the chair for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and has been an outspoken advocate for clean transportation, including biking.
Canning first entered the political arena in 2019, when she announced she was going to challenge DeFazio for this seat in 2020. He won that primary handily, but now that he’s stepping down to retire, Canning decided to take the leap on another opportunity to represent this district. So, if Canning takes office, how will she work to address the climate crisis and advocate for transportation reform?
First of all, she says, voters should take note of who’s funding her campaign (or rather, who isn’t).
“My campaign doesn’t accept any funds from the fossil fuel industry,” Canning told me when we chatted on the phone earlier this week.
It should be a no-brainer that someone who is running for office on a climate platform wouldn’t choose to cozy up to fossil fuel companies. Right now, however, Canning’s main opponent, Val Hoyle, is doing just that.
Hoyle is currently leading the pack of eight candidates in this race. She cites climate action as an important part of her platform and is a former employee of bike product maker Burley Designs and a former The Street Trust board member, but Hoyle didn’t shy away from openly supporting the Jordan Cove Pipeline fracking project during her run for Oregon Secretary of State in 2016.
“So, you know, that’s the choice in this race. I know that our district is ready for a strong progressive climate champion in 2022,” Canning said.
Canning suffered a blow earlier this year when DeFazio endorsed Hoyle for the seat he’s vacating. Considering she primaried him in 2020, this wasn’t a major shock. But Canning disagrees with the establishment Democratic case against her – the idea that she’s too radical to be electable.
“We should be promoting bikes in every way we possibly can, from individual incentive and rebate programs to putting in bike-based transportation systems in our cities and towns.”
— Doyle Canning
With Democrats barely clinging to the House majority as it is, some people think it’s better to play it safe. Outside of the liberal safe havens in Eugene and Corvallis, this district runs pretty red, and the sole Republican candidate in the race, Alek Skarlatos, is well-funded by the GOP.
But Canning says what’s really holding the Democratic Party back from maintaining political control is that they’ve avoided embracing the kinds of big ideas she wants to make happen. Her positions aren’t radical, she says – they’re reasonable and necessary, especially when it comes to the climate crisis.
As far as her outlook on transportation, Canning wants to be bold. She told me about her personal affinity for biking, and said she sees cycling as a policy issue that she wants to bring to the table.
Democratic Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who represents much of Portland east of the Willamette River, has been one of the strongest proponents of rebates for electric bikes. Canning is supportive of that plan.
“In my view, we should be promoting bikes in every way we possibly can, from individual incentive and rebate programs to putting in bike-based transportation systems in our cities and towns,” she said.
Canning is also an advocate for fare-free public transit, citing the system in Corvallis as aspirational, especially when looking at how smaller cities can promote car-alternative transportation and connect to more rural parts of the region.
“I think fare-free public transit is a climate solution. [Corvallis’ system] shows you what’s possible when you have bold, progressive leadership that’s really trying to solve these problems,” Canning said. “It can be done. And it can make the quality of life whole community better.”
Canning said that addressing transportation issues can be a part of solving other problems, too.
“There’s an opportunity to look at how we can link fare-free public transit, affordable housing and bike and active transportation infrastructure to make our cities more livable, have cleaner air, and easier to navigate,” she said.
I asked Canning how she stays faithful in the political system as a means for change despite the letdowns it brings. She said her grassroots campaign represents how leadership can rise from the ground up, and she’s optimistic that people power will prevail over big money.
“The only way change is really made in this country is when you have a movement. That’s what our campaign is,” she said. “That’s why I’m in politics.”
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at email@example.com