On a warm, sunny August morning in 2021, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, Congressman Peter DeFazio and Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle were touring a union workforce training center in Springfield.
During the event, which was promoting the Biden administration’s Build Back Better legislative agenda, Eugene Weekly brought up the topic of an Oregon gubernatorial run to Hoyle. She said she wasn’t interested, saying she wanted to run for re-election to continue serving as BOLI commissioner.
Her political plans changed when DeFazio announced his retirement, ending his tenure in the House after 36 years, Hoyle tells EW. Hoyle was the first candidate to file, hoping to succeed him. “I want to make sure the state and the congressional district continue to have strong, effective representation in Washington, D.C.,” she says. “I believe my values represent the values of this district.”
Running in a crowded Democratic Party primary against seven other candidates who want the party’s bid after the May 17 primary election, Hoyle has been endorsed by DeFazio, as well as other local and state officials. With national Republicans sending in money and endorsements to support Alek Skarlatos, who’s currently the lone candidate seeking the Republican nomination, Hoyle says she’s the only candidate who can win the district in November 2022, and she has the political experience to pass legislation in Congress.
Progressives question her legislative past, including her support for the Jordan Cove Liquid Natural Gas pipeline, but she says she’s committed to environmentalists and labor unions and wants to find a way to bring both together.
Hoyle says there’s a misunderstanding about the state of the 4th Congressional District after it was redistricted by the Oregon Senate in 2021. The redrawing, which happens every 10 years based on population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, has made the 4th district a little safer for Democrats. But she says it’s a target for Republicans, as they hope to win a majority in Congress in the midterms. “Skarlatos says he’s raised over a million dollars so far, so we really can’t afford to take chances and lose this district on someone who’s untested,” Hoyle says.
The Democratic Party advantage for the 4th Congressional District varies by source. The politics and sports statistics website FiveThirtyEight says the district has a nine point advantage to Democrats, but The Cook Political Report, which DeFazio often alludes to when talking about the district, says the party has a four point advantage.
DeFazio has often said that he’s received votes from Democrats, Republicans and independent voters, which is how he’s maintained his seat when it was previously a Republican-leaning district.
Hoyle says her election history suggests she can win the 4th district today. Hoyle served as a state representative in the Oregon House of Representatives from 2009 to 2015, which she says was a swing district that included west Eugene and Junction City. She lost the statewide primary for secretary of state in 2016, but she says she won the 4th Congressional District by 15 points. When she was elected to BOLI commissioner in 2018, she says she won by 25 points.
Her time in Salem is what sets her apart from the other Democrats seeking the nomination, she says, “I understand how bills work, how Ways and Means work, how you get something passed, how to work with people.”
In December 2021, Hoyle had raised $217,654, according to the latest data from the Federal Election Commission; the agency releases campaign data every financial quarter, so it hasn’t released 2022 data yet. Her largest contributions from political action committees are $10,000 from the Democratic Party-oriented D.C.-based consultant SD PAC, $5,000 from labor union National Elevator Constructors PAC and the rail transportation company Greenbrier Companies PAC.
Hoyle’s individual contributions include $5,800 each from former state Rep. Phil Barnhart and wife Florence Barnhart, $5,800 each from Justin King of King Estate and wife Audra Nguyen, and $2,900 from Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.
In addition to the endorsements of DeFazio and Sen. Jeff Merkley, Hoyle has received support from many local and state politicians. Her Lane County-based endorsements include county commissioners Heather Buch and Laurie Trieger, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis and five city councilors, as well as most of the area’s state legislative elected officials. She’s also received contributions from EMILY’s List, Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon Education Association and Oregon State Fire Fighters Council.
If elected, Hoyle says there are several issues to deal with, from reproductive rights to access to the ballot to climate change. One of her priorities, if elected, is ensuring that the money that was passed with the Biden administration’s infrastructure legislation, which DeFazio advocated for, comes to Oregon. As the U.S. rebuilds its infrastructure, she says, and as the country addresses climate change, there need to be ways for people to have transportation without depending on a gas-powered car.
Hoyle is the only candidate with elected experience seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination, but her support for the Jordan Cove Liquid Natural Gas pipeline has received criticism from some progressives. That support, she says, doesn’t accurately capture her environmental record. “I’m the only candidate in this race who has taken votes and worked to successfully pass legislation to improve our climate future,” she adds.
She points to three environmental legislation pieces she was a part of. First, the Clean Coal bill, which transitions Oregon off of electricity generated from coal by 2035 and doubles its renewable energy sources by 2040. Second, the Clean Fuels Program that decreased transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Third, the bill that prohibits offshore drilling.
“We have a lot of people who have done a lot of things, really good things, to highlight the climate crisis and advocate for changes,” she says of her opponents. “I’m the only one who’s actually voted on it, and I voted on it representing working class districts where that isn’t a No. 1 priority.”
Hoyle says she’s committed that she will not support new fossil fuel infrastructure in Congress. That’s something she’s told environmentalists, progressives and the building trades, she adds.
The interests of environmentalists, worker advocates and building trades have often been at a standoff, Hoyle says, something that has divided progressives. As BOLI commissioner and a state legislator, she says she’s built relationships with those parties. “We need to come together and find common ground between labor and environmentalists to move forward as quickly as possible, to move to a fossil fuel free economy,” she says. “And I pledge to make that a focus of mine in Congress.”