The 15:17 to Congress

Oregon hero Alek Skarlatos takes on long-time incumbent Peter DeFazio in his campaign for Congress

Alek Skarlatos is not a typical congressional candidate.

He is probably best known for The 15:17 to Paris, a Clint Eastwood movie based on a true story where Skarlatos and his friends stop a terrorist aboard a train in France. He is also known for a brief role on Dancing With the Stars, in which he won third place.

Now, at 26, Skarlatos is running for Congress as a Republican — taking on incumbent Rep. Peter DeFazio — to represent Oregon’s 4th district in the 2020 election.

He has little political experience — in 2018 he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners — but Skarlatos is making the jump for Congress because he says it’s time for someone to be the voice of rural Oregon. 

“There are probably more qualified people out there, but no one has decided to run,” Skarlatos says. “I’ve seen nothing from either side of the aisle that would help us out here. And that’s the biggest reason why I’m running.”

His main focus is forest management and the timber industry. Skarlatos graduated from Roseburg High School in 2011 and says he has witnessed the decline of the industry after the Great Recession, and that it has “decimated Douglas County.”

Skarlatos says he believes if the forests were managed better, both the environment and the economy would benefit.

“I just think there is a lot of room for compromise,” he says. “It’s not mutually exclusive.”

Despite his passion for the issue, Skarlatos says he has no personal ties to the industry itself.

“It’s all about social impact,” he says. “I would have no problem with it as long as people would find equivalent or better jobs.”

After high school, Skarlatos spent a few years taking classes at Umpqua Community College. In 2012, he joined the National Guard as a specialist and left UCC when he was given a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan. 

In 2015, while vacationing in Europe, Skarlatos and U.S. Airmen Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler took a train from Amsterdam to Paris. They stopped a terrorist on the train who attempted to open fire with an assault rifle.

Skarlatos and his friends received honors and awards from both the U.S. and France. The three also became naturalized French citizens. They wrote a book and, a few years later, the three men were cast in the Eastwood movie. Skarlatos left the National Guard in 2017 and returned to Roseburg, where he now lives.

Despite his international reputation, he says he doesn’t want to use his fame to advance his campaign, although he admits it could be helpful. 

“I’m not running just because I stopped the terrorist attack,” he says. “I think people are sick of hearing about that.”

Skarlatos also says current 4th district representative DeFazio has been in office too long and has forgotten to represent the rural part of the district. DeFazio has been in Congress since 1987 — longer than Skarlatos has been alive. 

“I just felt like someone had to stand up to him and remind that he represents an entire district,” Skarlatos says.

In addition to his passion for managing forests, he is also pro-gun and pro-economic growth, he says. If elected, he also wants to work with the Veterans Administration in providing better care for veterans.

Skarlatos has officially filed to run for office and has raised a little over $10,000, according to the Federal Election Commission website. He knows DeFazio will be raising a lot of money, he says, and hopes to compete with it.

The 2020 election is already shaping up to be unique. For Oregon’s 4th district, the May primary will show if the National-Guardsman-turned-actor will have the opportunity to add “congressman” to his resume.

This story has been updated.