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House GOP leader stumps for candidates, hits Democrats on crime

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Kevin McCarthy came to Oregon to campaign for congressional candidates whose election he hopes will secure Republicans a majority in the U.S. House and make him its next speaker.

The party’s current House leader from California also used his visit Wednesday not only to promote Republicans seeking the open 4th, 5th and 6th district seats, but to bash Democrats and the city of Portland. He accused Democrats of seeking to defund police — though he did not specify any congressional action on their part — and took his cue from an Aug. 22 Wall Street Journal story describing Portland’s difficulties in dealing with a rising homicide rate. (A Portland police unit focused on preventing gun violence was disbanded, but has been reconstituted in a different form.)

“What we found was that Democratic policies brought us to defund the police,” McCarthy said at a meeting at the Grand Hotel at Bridgeport, near Bridgeport Village in Tualatin south of Portland. “We believe Republicans have a better idea with a commitment to America and we’ll make our streets safe again.

“My question to everyone in Oregon: do you look forward to going to downtown Portland? The answer from every data point is no.”

To a panel of invited mayors, other elected city officials and some current and retired police — none of them from Portland — McCarthy said one of those ideas is linking federal grants for community policing to criminal prosecutions and crime rates, although he declined to say who should set those standards or what they should be.

While conceding that “a lot of this is really a local issue,” McCarthy said, “You should have a transparency factor, especially when it comes to prosecutors. You cannot have law and order without order.”

He did not single out Mike Schmidt, the Multnomah County district attorney, but did mention the June 7 recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

“We are supplying COPS grants today,” McCarthy said. “But DAs are not upholding the law.”

Although not a specialist in criminal law, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz of Ontario — the lone Republican in Oregon’s current congressional delegation, and a lawyer — said, “I call on them (prosecutors) to do their job better.” Bentz’s brother, Andy, is a former Malheur County sheriff.

Democrats originated grants

What McCarthy didn’t say was that the Office of Community Oriented Police Services (COPS), a unit of the U.S. Department of Justice that awards COPS grants, was created by anticrime legislation that was passed by a Democratic Congress in 1994 and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton. One of its chief architects was Joe Biden, then a Democratic senator from Delaware and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That legislation drew critics from both sides because it banned military-style assault weapons for a decade — a Republican Congress let it lapse in 2004 — and also imposed life sentences under federal law for some violent crimes. Some said those sentences fell disproportionately on people of color, although the get-tough movement was national in scope. (Oregon voters passed a ballot initiative, known as Measure 11, not long afterward to impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for specified violent crimes.)

McCarthy said his comparison was with the 1984 legislation that required states to raise the legal drinking age to 21 — though most states already were there — or stand to lose federal highway funds.

He rejected a comparison to the No Child Left Behind Act, passed by bipartisan congressional majorities and signed by Republican President George W. Bush in 2002, that linked federal aid to schools with national educational standards to be attained by 2014. But Congress wrote another law, which President Barack Obama signed in 2015, to give more flexibility to states after many states agreed on an alternative set of standards. It is known as Every Student Succeeds.

“We have come as candidates to listen to the mayors,” McCarthy said.

Several of them told McCarthy that because of Oregon’s strict property tax limits — and that police and fire services consume the lion’s share of many city budgets — they would like to see more federal aid. Some officials, particularly from Gresham and Oregon City, said they used their shares of money from the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act — which President Biden signed in March 2021 and contained $350 billion in aid to states, local and tribal governments — to shore up police.

No Republican in either chamber voted for that legislation. But McCarthy brushed off a question afterward about how small cities would continue to get what were intended as one-time payments.

“They will continue to get the money,” he said. “You are making my case for me.”

Campaign focus

McCarthy was elected to the U.S. House in 2006, after having been Republican leader in the California Assembly. He became party leader in 2015 under Republican Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and held onto the job when Republicans became the minority party after the 2018 election.

A GOP gain of a few seats Nov. 8 would make Republicans the House’s majority party — but some factions have opposed McCarthy in the past.

McCarthy was joined by Bentz plus three candidates being promoted in varying degrees by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of House Republicans.

They are Mike Erickson of Lake Oswego, a businessman and the nominee in the new 6th District; Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Happy Valley, its mayor for eight years and the nominee in the 5th District, and Alex Skarlatos of Roseburg, the second-time nominee in the 4th District. Erickson, a two-time nominee in the 5th District, faces Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego. Chavez-DeRemer is against Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne, who unseated seven-term incumbent Kurt Schrader of Canby in the May 17 primary. Skarlatos is running this time against Democrat Val Hoyle of Springfield, the state labor commissioner. Skarlatos lost in 2020 to Democrat Peter DeFazio of Springfield, who is retiring after 36 years.

Also attending was Christopher Mann, the GOP nominee who is up against five-term Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton.

Barely a year ago, Republican state legislators criticized the Democratic draft redrawing of Oregon’s U.S. House districts, including the newly created 6th that resulted after the 2020 Census. Now McCarthy and the National Republican Congressional Committee are eying the possibility of winning four of the six seats.

McCarthy stopped at a private fundraiser for the candidates before his appearance at the forum.

The forum included mayors or other elected officials from nine cities — most are from the outskirts of Portland, except for Gresham and Oregon City — plus Chavez-DeRemer, a former mayor of Happy Valley, and David Bishop, a retired Beaverton police chief. Two from the Gresham Police Officers Association also were present.

“Public safety is a top priority,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “So this event was easy to pull together.”

Erickson said that Nicole Morisey O’Donnell, the Multnomah County sheriff-elect, was invited but had a conflicting budget meeting and could not attend.

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