Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District, initially considered safely Democratic, has become a battleground between progressive state Rep. Andrea Salinas and Republican businessman Mike Erickson, as both candidates sling mud at each other and tout their differing backgrounds in government and business.
Salinas points to her track record of sponsoring legislation to provide workers with paid family and medical leave, championing abortion rights and standing up for agricultural workers, while Erickson casts his opponent as anti-police and anti-farmer and says he’ll help businesses with supply chain issues and cross his party to fight climate change.
Salinas and her fellow Democratic lawmakers thought they gave themselves a slight but significant upper hand last year when they drew the new district, which stretches from Portland’s southwest suburbs to Salem with Willamette Valley communities in between. Democrats have a voter registration advantage, with 147,700 registered Democrats, 121,800 registered Republicans and 198,500 other voters.
Respected national analysts had for months rated the race as leaning toward Salinas. But recent reports and a new poll suggest Erickson is closing the gap with a $1 million self-financed ad blitz, helped by national trends boosting Republicans around the country. Influential politics monitor Cook Political Report changed its rating of the race this week from “lean Democrat” to a tossup. Salinas publicized a poll Monday showing a neck-and-neck race four weeks before the November election.
Salinas has pledged, if elected to Congress, to build on her progressive record representing Lake Oswego in the Legislature since 2017. She says she’d work to pass a national minimum wage hike, increase childcare funding and prioritize climate policies.
Erickson says he’d use his professional experience as a supply chain consultant to navigate challenges in that sector and bring a “problem-solving mindset” to help curb inflation. He has also pledged to increase law enforcement funding.
He says he breaks with some members of his party to support certain climate policies and would work to facilitate the nation’s transition to renewable energy. Erickson also denies the baseless theory that President Joe Biden fraudulently stole the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump.
Erickson is one of three Oregon Republicans in competitive congressional races who could help the party take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Cook Political report has also rated the 5th District race between Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer and Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner a tossup and rates the 4th District race between Democrat Val Hoyle and Republican Alek Skarlatos as leaning toward the Democrat.
Nationally, Republicans need a net gain of seven seats to retake control of the U.S. House. Midterm elections are usually unfavorable for the party in the White House.
The possibility of Republican gains in Oregon drew an August campaign stop by U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who stumped for Erickson and other Republicans at a Tigard roundtable where he hammered Democrats for rising crime and homelessness in Portland.
Erickson has seized on those campaign themes in advertisements, portraying Salinas as anti-police, while Salinas and Democrats cast him as hypocritical for his 2016 arrest for drunk driving and past support for abortion restrictions despite paying for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion in 2001. Erickson has maintained he paid the woman $300 and drove her to a Portland medical clinic but wasn’t aware that she was getting an abortion.
Erickson said in an interview that Oregon’s Legislature should decide abortion policy and the procedure should be allowed in cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother. He said repeatedly he wouldn’t support a federal law restricting abortion if elected.
Salinas supports Oregon’s expansive abortion law and lobbied for Pro-Choice Oregon, a reproductive rights advocacy group, before winning election to the Legislature.
Early this month, Erickson sued Salinas over her campaign ad incorrectly alleging he faced felony drug charges in connection with the 2016 drunk driving arrest. Contrary to inaccurate court documents publicized by Democrats, an officer found Erickson had one 5 mg oxycodone pill in his possession, which he said belonged to his wife who had a prescription for it. Erickson pleaded guilty to driving under the influence but was never charged with a drug offense. Salinas did not pull the ad.
NEW DISTRICT UP FOR GRABS
Greg Leo, a Republican strategist, said the new congressional district, Oregon’s first in 40 years, offers a “clean slate” for both candidates.
“Both campaigns, I think, are working very hard to make an impression with new voters,” he said.
Erickson reported raising $1.5 million through June, compared to $1.3 million for Salinas. However, both candidates are expected to report significant donations and spending by the Federal Election Commission’s quarterly deadline Saturday.
Politico reported this week that Erickson has spent more than $1 million of his own money on TV ads linking Salinas to crime and homelessness. Mary Louise VanNatta, a spokesperson for Erickson, would not confirm the report. Shannon Geison, a spokesperson for Salinas, said in a statement she will report raising more than $1 million over the summer from about 8,000 individual donors.
Neither candidate lives in the district. Erickson lives in unincorporated Clackamas County and Salinas lives in Lake Oswego. Both say they live close to the district line.
Salinas says her politics are rooted in her father’s history as a Mexican-born farmworker who immigrated to the U.S. and became a police officer.
“I’m running for Congress because I truly believe that change is possible in a single generation for those individuals and families who feel like they’re not getting ahead right now,” Salinas said in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board. “And I know that change can happen because it’s happened for me and my family.”
Salinas kicked off her political career as an aide to Democratic members of Congress including prominent former U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and former U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, whose Oregon district is now partially included in the new 6th District. Salinas worked as a lobbyist in the Oregon Legislature for clients including labor unions and reproductive rights advocacy groups from 2015 to 2017, records show.
Voters first elected Salinas to House District 38 in 2017, a seat she holds until early next year.
She says she’s proud of her record in Salem, where she helped pass a centerpiece 2019 law providing workers with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave annually. After passing that law, however, Democrats exercised little oversight as significant delays plagued the program, which won’t launch until September 2023. Salinas also supported laws requiring public agencies to investigate workplace harassment claims and mandating the state’s largest utilities provide 100% clean energy by 2040.
Salinas touts endorsements from Democratic U.S Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that includes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Erickson says his professional experience in business, not government, is sorely needed in Congress.
Erickson founded the shipping consulting firm AFMS Logistics Management Group in 1992. He says he advises some of the world’s biggest brands including Starbucks, John Deere and Under Armour. There’s plenty of work amid pandemic-era supply chain delays and shortages, which injected volatility and cost increases into the U.S. economy, he said in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Erickson said he’s running for office in part to defend law enforcement and military members. Like Salinas, his father was a police officer and also a veteran.
“I’ve always been taught to respect law enforcement and our military,” Erickson said in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board. “And I just think we’ve lost that in our country.”
Erickson said Oregon has been overtaken by “lawlessness” and rising crime, although he did not go into specifics. He said police officers need more training to respond to people in mental health crises as well as body-worn cameras to shore up transparency and accountability in cases of police misconduct, which he said are rare.
Salinas also supports preparing police to better “de-escalate” people in crisis who do not pose a public safety risk. She called for investments in crisis-intervention strategies such as Eugene’s popular Cahoots program, which uses trained mental health and emergency medical technicians instead of police to respond to some behavioral health crises.
While in the Legislature, Salinas supported progressive public safety policies including a bill she sponsored last year that would have allowed felons to vote while incarcerated. It did not pass. Salinas helped pass a law this year preventing police from conducting vehicle searches during routine traffic stops.
Erickson called her record “anti-police.”
Woodburn area nursey owner Todd Nelson complained about inflation when Erickson toured his 700-acre operation, Bountiful Farms, last month. The nursery produces blue spruces, Japanese maples, hydrangeas and other plants for retail sale and employs about 100 people. He said the price of diesel fuel, fertilizer and hay bale twine all spiked in recent years, saddling his operation with high overhead.
“I don’t know of anything that has not gone up,” Nelson said.
Nelson is president-elect of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, an advocacy group that’s among agricultural interest groups opposed to Salinas for a controversial law she sponsored this year extending overtime pay to farmworkers, making Oregon the eighth state to do so.
Dozens of labor advocates and farmworkers submitted testimony supporting the law. Nelson said he and other farm owners will have to fire employees to afford the required pay increases.
But it might not be that cut-and-dry. A study prepared by Portland firm Highland Economics for the Oregon Farm Bureau found that overtime regulations in California had mixed results, with some workers receiving higher pay, some receiving the same pay for fewer hours worked and others receiving lower pay due to fewer hours or the elimination of jobs.
Salinas stands by the law. In an interview, she said she addressed farm owners’ concerns by phasing in the overtime requirements over a five-year period and creating tax credits to buffer the higher payroll costs.
Casey Kulla, a farmer and Democratic Yamhill County Commissioner, testified in support of the law. He said Salinas showed her leadership skills and empathy while negotiating the bill in heated hearings.
“I think she’s really the right person for the district,” Kulla said.
Two Republican lawmakers who sat on the House redistricting committee with Salinas last year view her differently.
Reps. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles and Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany, who co-chaired the committee with Salinas, said Salinas refused to work across the aisle and instead followed orders from party officials to gerrymander the new maps. Democrats led by House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, initially promised Republicans a power-sharing agreement during the process but reneged on the deal to Republicans’ outrage.
“There was no bipartisan approach to redistricting,” Boshart Davis said. She called the process “horrifying.”
Geison, Salinas’ campaign manager, said in an email that the Oregon Supreme Court decided the political maps are fair and legal.
“The House redistricting committee conducted a fair, transparent and comprehensive process,” she said.
— Grant Stringer; email@example.com; 503-307-3591; @Stringerjourno
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