Dan Rayfield is about as multifaceted as a politician in Oregon can be. The speaker of the Oregon Legislature’s House of Representatives is also a tuba player / polka bandmate / dad / former Jungle Cruise emcee and is now ready to take on a new title: Oregon attorney general.
Rayfield, the jack of a myriad of trades, says, “I want to be known as the attorney general for all Oregonians.”
Eugene Weekly called the Corvallis Democrat while he was in transit from Portland back to Corvallis to discuss why this one-time college dropout turned political powerhouse wants to try his hand at being Oregon’s top law enforcement officer.
Rayfield says his political career is “derivative of how diverse my parents were growing up.” His parents fell on opposite ends of the political spectrum, he says, with a “very progressive” mother who took a young Rayfield to protests and always did things “her own way as she made her way through the world.”
He was simultaneously raised by a conservative former Air Force colonel turned band director, and he says these experiences greatly influenced how he moves through the world and the Legislature.
Rayfield’s path to politics couldn’t be more different than that of the average politician, and he’s not afraid to own up to the mistakes of his past. “I think by the age of 20 I had been arrested, you know, multiple times, had been fired from jobs, one of those being at Disney World,” he says. “I didn’t graduate high school on time and dropped out of college the first time.”
A stint in community college inspired him to continue on through school and eventually graduate from Western Oregon University and then from Willamette University with a J.D. in law.
“When I first ran in 2010, I was very ashamed of my past; It was something that I didn’t want to talk about,” Rayfield says. “I think as I grew older I really started to appreciate that is what made me who I am.”
He owes his willingness to be so open with the public about his past to an experience giving high school students a tour of the Oregon Capitol, which he admittedly loves doing. “Maybe it’s the jungle cruise skipper in me — I don’t know,” he says. On the tour, one of the high school students told him that they had a 2.0 GPA and was really struggling in school, but that his story gave them hope.
“I think there’s power in just being a human being and sharing the struggles, you know, that we all went through in life,” Rayfield says.
After an unsuccessful bid for Oregon Senate in 2010, Rayfield was elected to the House in 2014. Within three years he was a leader in the Legislature’s budget writing committee. In 2022, he was voted Speaker of the House, making him the first speaker from Benton County in over a hundred years.
While Rayfield acknowledges that being Speaker of the House “is one of the most meaningful things” he’s ever done, the prospect of getting to use his background as an attorney on a bigger stage with greater impact excites him.
“My experience in a consumer protection space has really given me a broad range of views and experience,” he says. “And, to be honest with you, a ground-up passion for the work that excites me day in and day out.”
Consumer protection seems to be at the forefront of Rayfield’s plans as attorney general. “In a world ever present with wealth inequality, making sure that we are enforcing consumer protection laws is critical,” he says.
Rayfield brings up insurance company scams and predatory lenders as examples of cases that attorneys don’t always take on. “When attorneys aren’t taking these kinds of cases, you need to have an attorney general who is proactively working in these areas,” he says.
In addition to consumer protection, Rayfield is also ready to use “a different set of tools” as attorney general to continue fighting for tighter gun control. He says there are two ways he plans on going about this: the first being to continue defending Oregon’s laws against federal pressure, and the second being to lead conversations on how to make sure our communities are safe from gun violence.
As a parent of a 12-year-old, Rayfield says he sees how gun violence has completely changed the framework of public schools. “I think one of the realities that you face every single day is that this is our new world that I encounter when I walk to the school and the different checkout procedures, the lock, the doors, it is just a different world, he says.”
So far, Rayfield is the sole Democrat in the 2024 attorney general’s race and is up against Republicans Will Lathrop, a Newberg attorney, and Robert Neuman of Baker County, who ran for state labor commissioner in 2022. Rayfield has received endorsements from former Oregon governors Kate Brown and John Kitzhaber as well as state senators James Manning and Floyd Prozanski. According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, his campaign has about $270,500 on hand in contributions from Oregon Health Care Association PAC ($5,000) listed days after he announced he was running for attorney general and contributions from Kroger ($2,000) and Schnitzer Steel Industries ($2,500) in the days before.
While Rayfield says it’s still pretty early on in the campaign to really know what “naturally distinguishes” him from the other candidates, he imagines that they will have some pretty big differences on issues such as women’s reproductive rights and gun violence prevention.
“With the folks that are running, I think I will be the only candidate that has actually done the things that we’re all talking about,” Rayfield says. “Do we need to do more of those things? Absolutely.”
Oregon’s primary election is May 21, 2024.