February 15, 2008 Volume 109 Number 4

Labor ally Hooley to leave Congress

Union leaders will be paying close attention to Oregon’s 5th Congressional District this year. Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley announced Feb. 8 that she’ll retire at the end of the year, meaning her seat is up for grabs in the November 2008 election.

For organized labor, it means a scramble to replace a reliable union ally, and keep the seat in worker-friendly hands. Hooley’s district encompasses Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Lincoln counties, and parts of Clackamas, Multnomah and Benton counties. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, and yet Hooley has won election six times, starting in 1996 with the defeat of Republican Jim Bunn.

Hooley may be best known as a staunch defender of veterans’ benefits and an activist for doing somethinUg to combat methamphetamine addiction. But she’s also been a friend of labor, with an 86 percent favorable rating from the national AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education.

“She called them as she saw them,” said Tim Nesbitt, former Oregon AFL-CIO president who is now an adviser to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Nesbitt cited Hooley’s 2003 vote against the Medicare prescription drug bill as a turning point. The bill split Democrats, many of whom wanted a drug benefit for seniors but saw this bill as an expensive giveaway to drug companies.

“It took a lot of courage for her to go that way,” Nesbitt said.

A notable black mark in labor’s tally was Hooley’s 2002 vote for a law that made it harder for people to escape debt by declaring bankruptcy.

But as Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain pointed out, Hooley was an early co-signer of the Employee Free Choice Act, the union-backed reform of the nation’s basic labor law.

“She’s been beyond accessible,” Chamberlain said. “If we needed to get in, we could see her. And she was never afraid to give me a call and ask how I feel about an issue.”

Chamberlain said Hooley has been good on the minimum wage, and she came around on NAFTA-style trade agreements, voting for several early on, but opposing recent trade agreements that have come up for a vote.

Chamberlain predicts an exciting race to replace Hooley. Several Democrats will compete in the May primary, including Paul Evans, an Iraq war veteran who had labor’s backing in his unsuccessful 2006 run for the State Senate. Oregon Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, said he also is considering running.

Whoever wins the primary will face off against the Republican nominee in November.

“It’s going to be tougher for Republicans this year,” Chamberlain said. “In her district, they tend to be blue-collar Republicans, so issues about the economy are going to resonate.”


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