It’s an important one — Peter DeFazio, whom Politico describes as “the Oregon firebrand who leads the House’s transportation committee.” DeFazio says he’ll retire to “focus on my health and well-being.” Politico attributes the decision in no small part to the impending takeover of the House by the GOP.
The two explanations aren’t inconsistent. Losing his chairmanship and being in the minority would not be good for DeFazio’s well-being.
DeFazio was already disillusioned by the fact that the Democrats could pass an infrastructure bill of only around $1 trillion. Says Politico:
His announcement comes on the heels of a frustrating few years in which DeFazio’s dreams of an ambitious, environmentally focused overhaul of the nation’s highway and transit program were sidelined for a major infrastructure bill that went only as far as Republicans in the Senate would agree to go.
In addition, Democrats are widely expected to lose their slim majority in the House in 2022, the kind of factor that frequently helps motivate lawmakers to retire. He will be the 19th House Democrat so far to have announced plans to leave after 2022.
When I first heard about DeFazio’s retirement, I assumed his seat would remain in Democratic hands. We’re talking about Oregon, after all, and about a district that repeatedly has elected a left-wing “firebrand.”
But my assumption lacked foundation. Politico points out that DeFazio’s district (Oregon’s 4th) went for Hillary Clinton by just 0.1 percentage points and for Joe Biden by just 4 points. DeFazio himself recently won by only five points in 2020. The district includes the state’s two main college towns, but also a significant amount of rural area.
The seat might well by in play next year. In any event, as Politico says with obvious regret, DeFazio’s departure “is bad news for greens and progressives, who will be hard-pressed to find a successor as enthusiastic about blunting climate change or as well-positioned to do something about it.”