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Q&A with Val Hoyle, Democratic candidate for Oregon's 4th Congressional District

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With the retirement of Rep. Peter DeFazio, for the first time in nearly 40 years there is no incumbent on the ballot for Oregon's 4th Congressional District. KVAL's Brandon Kamerman sat down with current Oregon Labor Commissioner and Democratic candidate for 4th Congressional District Val Hoyle.

Brandon Kamerman, KVAL news: I'm joined by Oregon's Labor Commissioner and the Democratic candidate for Oregon's 4th Congressional District, Val Hoyle. Val, thanks for coming up to our studio here in Eugene.

Val Hoyle: Well, thank you so much for having me.

There's been troubling news month after month with the inflation report consistently nationally above 8%, taking a toll on a lot of people here in the 4th Congressional District. What would you do at the federal level to address this problem?

VH: So, first of all, I want to say it is a real issue, especially for people in the 4th Congressional District and, you know, we had a lot of jobs 20, 30 years ago that were wiped out, whether it was because companies outsourced their manufacturing or timber jobs and what we lost was a middle class and we need to restore that middle class.

And I know what that's like. I grew up in an old mill town. So, you know, it's people here feel that the rise in prices, but there are things that we can do and we in Oregon can be the solution for the country, so one of the biggest issues is the supply chain that we we need to reduce the supply chain congestion.

And there is an opportunity to build a full container port in Coos Bay. Now, that would be 9,000 jobs between Coos, Douglas and Lane County. That is transformational, in rebuilding a middle class but it also will reduce the supply chain congestion on the West Coast by 10 to 12% and will allow us to take trucks off the road because the containers will go straight to rail.

These are the kind of solutions and investments that we got in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Peter DeFazio helped negotiate, so that is one thing. The second thing is bringing manufacturing back and the third thing is as Labor Commissioner, I travel around the state and there are employers who have good paying jobs and they can't find the workforce, which is why one of the key things that I've focused on, this Labor Commissioner is expanding apprenticeship opportunities, not just in the construction trades, but also in health care, in manufacturing, in logistics and distribution in firefighting for 50% of jobs that need more than a high school degree, less than a college degree, an apprenticeship model where someone can get paid while they learn because a lot of people in this district can't afford to not get paid and go to school. They don't have any college debt and our employers get critical workforce needs filled. So it's good for the employee. It's good for the employer, it's good for our economy and at the federal level, I want to work to make sure that an apprenticeship certification is seen as equal to a college degree in different areas.

And you alluded to a little bit of it. At times, wages are an issue as well and that's part of the biggest problem with inflation is wages haven't kept up, so prices are rising, but people's wages aren't going up to the same level. Is there something that can be done to address the wage gap?

VH: Yeah, at the federal level, the minimum wage is still $7.35 an hour, so in Oregon, our wages are higher, right. I think that and and you're right, wages have not kept pace with inflation or even close. So I think at the federal level, we do need to raise the minimum wage, we also need to make sure that we have affordable housing, housing is a major issue here, as elsewhere, and not just low income housing, but middle income housing, right? We need all of those things that I think the federal government can be a partner with localities for different kinds of housing models because a solution in a rural community is different than a solution in an urban community but I think raising the federal minimum wage is absolutely one of my priorities.

Another wildfire season, more destruction, poor air quality and and consistent fear for a lot of people, that their homes or their businesses are at stake every summer, every late or early fall, late summer. How can we better manage this crisis?

VH: So, first of all, this is very personal to me because I live you know, I live in a rural community, I live up on the McKenzie so we got evacuated and we are right in what's called the they call the WUI. It's the wild urban, urban Wildland Urban Interface, which are the areas that are most in danger, right?

We do not, we want those fires to not come here, so I think making sure that those areas are clean of debris, making sure that we're managing our forests properly, making sure that while we're doing that, we're protecting our old growth. We can do all of those things but the larger issue is why are we having these major fires? Why are we having these droughts? Why are we having the extreme weather where it's like massive ice storms in the winter and then heat domes in the summer? Right? It's because of the climate crisis, so we can address some of the the issues on the ground and I believe that in Oregon, we're going to be able to do that.

I mean, we've got federal lands, state lands and private lands. I think we can have a more coordinated forest management plan but the bigger issue is everything we do should be addressing the climate crisis and moving us away from fossil fuels for energy.

Oregon is perhaps the most successful state in terms of abortion and you've stated publicly your support for abortion access, but what are your thoughts on placing more limitations on it, like a 15 or 22 week ban? What would you say to Oregonians who support abortion access but with more limits than are currently imposed in the state?

VH: So voters in Oregon have multiple times said that they believe that the decision to have an abortion, when to have an abortion is between a doctor and a patient and I believe that that decision should be between a doctor and a patient. I am the only person in this race who's been pregnant, who's given birth, who's lost a pregnancy.

And the thought of having to go have my doctor go to a lawyer to determine whether I could get have an abortion to protect my health or life is offensive. So I don't think that we should get in between a doctor and a patient and let's be clear, women aren't at eight months going out and saying, well, I think I'm, I don't want to be pregnant.

That's not what happens. There are horrific, horrific decisions that people women who are in the third trimester, what we've seen in Ohio is already young people who are raped, who are pregnant, much like that ten year old girl. We've seen women who have cancer who are not being allowed to have cancer treatment because it is fatal to the fetus.

So, you know, in a life or death situation, that is complicated and it should be between a doctor and a patient and it should stay that way. I also think that that the idea of having each state have different rules is also ridiculous, so if I'm pregnant and go to Ohio and I have an ectopic pregnancy, it's not like I have different health care needs just because I cross the border to Idaho or Ohio or Texas.

And I think what we need to look at is Republicans have stated very clearly they want a national ban. They absolutely want a national ban, and they are okay with bounty hunters going after women who are seeking abortion, doctors who are performing abortions, whether or not it's for the health of the mother, right? This is terrifying, so in Oregon, the voters have decided time and time and time again that that decision should be between a medical provider and a patient.

And I'm 100% supportive of that.

There's a push to build a wind farm with the support of the federal government off the coast of Coos Bay. There are climate benefits, of course, to expanding our wind energy, but fishing groups on the coast argue it would inhibit their ability to fish. Would you support an offshore wind farm on the Oregon coast?

VH: So I support renewable energy. We have to pick a thing to power the grid, right? And I think wind energy is absolutely a great way to go. The issue is that the federal agency that determines where those wind turbines go have decided that the right place for it, so right out where the shelf is offshore, off the south coast, is also where it's some of the richest fishing areas in the world.

And well, there's whale migration, so we need to make sure that we're not harming the really rich ecosystem off the south coast. We're allowing people who are fishing to feed our communities and feed the world and also have wind energy, but not do it in a place that affects our fishing or fishing harvest. So I think it's a both.

And I think and I've talked with Peter DeFazio, with Senator Merkley and Wyden about pushing the agency to rethink how they want to do this, where they want to place that wind farm to be further off so it doesn't affect our fishing community, but I strongly believe that these people in these communities have had these jobs for generations, my mother's family, our fishermen, and they feed the world and we need to make sure that we protect both things.

Homelessness was a concern in Oregon before the pandemic. It has gotten worse. What can you do at the federal level to address the crisis of the unhoused?

VH: So I think the federal government has walked away from their obligations on housing, whether it's you know, with Section Eight funding, so for low income housing vouchers or the supportive services that some people need in order to be housed. But the critical thing is in many of our communities in this district, specifically on the coast, they have less than 1% vacancy rates, so there aren't places for people to live, people that are renting that would otherwise buy a house because housing prices are so high, right, are living in rental places, so we need more housing stock and as I said previously, I think the federal government, whether it's enforcing fair housing laws, investing in Section Eight housing vouchers, working with communities on workforce housing, Pacific Seafoods, for instance, their biggest issue in finding employees was that there was no place for them to live. So they're working at building workforce housing.

So I think we need to be creative. We need to work with each individual community on what their solutions are but we need to build more housing stock.

There is a growing chasm between the two major parties. I don't think there's any secret to that, and we see it even in the 4th Congressional District, which has strong Democrats, strong Republicans, Independents, and there might be some people out there who don't like either party. I would argue some of this, though, certainly not all of it, simmered, particularly after the 2020 election. A good portion of the country doesn't accept the result of that election. What is your response to people in this country who believe the 2020 election was illegitimate? And how can we re-establish trust in the election system and the federal government as a whole?

VH: I'm not sure you're going to like my answer, but you are right and it is fundamentally dangerous that we have people that are watching news, something that purports to be news, right. We're getting our information from different sources and some of those sources are undermining our very democracy and it is wrong. I have neighbors who believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Now this is this, these things have been litigated at every level with judges appointed by Republicans, with Democrats. There have been no, there has been nowhere where they have found credible evidence of voter fraud. But we have misinformation where we used to be able to watch one news source have basically the same information and we come to our decisions.

Right now, we have completely different news sources. We have social media that has algorithms that want to foment outrage. So if you are leaning more Republican, then you get news that that feeds into your basic bias. Democrats, it's the same thing. So I think that we need to work to make sure that we have accurate, accurate news and information from the media.

I think we need to make sure that people are literate on social media. I think that, I think that it is the most dangerous thing that has happened to this country, that we have people that are actually trying to undermine our democracy, which is the basis upon which this republic exists. So I do believe Joe Biden won the election.

There is no evidence that he didn't win the election. And I believe at the federal level, the one of the reasons that I am running is I believe that our democracy is in peril. And I think we should protect voting rights. We should pass the Voting Rights Act. We should protect people's access to the ballot and what we have found is that in Oregon, people have better access to the ballot than any other state.

And we vote by mail and there is a paper copy of every vote. That's the way we should do it everywhere and I will work to try and make that a federal law.

The chasm between the parties that I referenced also evidenced recently with red state governors sending immigrants to blue states. What's the non-political solution for the immigration crisis? What can be done that both parties can get on board with?

VH: So first of all, there were red state governors that were sending refugees that came here to legally apply for asylum, which is legal in our country, to places, to blue states without letting anyone know using these really vulnerable people as pawns is it's disgusting, it's offensive, and it's unfortunately what we've seen from the GOP, where they're willing to create outrage, they're willing to point the finger, but they're not willing to move forward with solutions.

So in 1986, Congress passed the last immigration reform bill and it was a bipartisan bill because whether it's employers or agriculture or you know, just I think our communities do better with diversity. My family came here two generations ago and they wanted to seek a better life. They wanted to be able to practice their religion without being discriminated against.

And they came to the United States. And I'm a very, very proud American. So we need to work together and put aside all of the political fingerpointing and actually come up with a solution that has our border secure. That allows people to come here, that make sure that, you know, that people are protected when they come here and that we keep the people out, that aren't going to be that are going to make our country less safe.

But it's a hard conversation to have when people are going to politicize whatever you do. But I am hopeful that when I get to Congress I'll be able to work with people on the other side who actually want to solve problems.

How would you lower health care costs for people in the 4th Congressional District?

VH: So I think that Oregon has done a good job with our coordinated with our CCO's, our community, coordinated organizations that John Kitzhaber, who was the governor at the time, really leaned in to. He was a health care expert. So one of the things that we found is before the Affordable Care Act, Lane County had a 21% uninsured rate.

So I worked I ran the United Way 100% access coalition, which helped people get access to quality, affordable care when the Affordable Care Act came into being, those people got insurance and those people who had been un-doctored actually got to get diabetes medication, control their high blood pressure before they ended up in the hospital. The other thing we need to do is make sure that when we're reimbursing people for health care that we do it in the right place.

If you have an older person who has surgery and you send them home without care, the likelihood they come back with an infection is high. We should be funding either in-home care or a step program where they can go into a nursing home. So we need to fund the right level of service in the right place at the right cost and make sure that we expand our primary care, which means, you know, fashioning our reimbursement system for outcomes as opposed to by each procedure.

Last question for you and it's directed particularly because you're familiar with this being the Labor Commissioner. Right now, there's a strike going on with Weyerhaeuser workers. We've seen locally strikes and union and unionization at Starbucks. The railworker strike almost happened. I think a lot of people are happy it did not but there's a change, I think and I don't know if you agree with this. Do you see this as a turning point? Right now for workers unions? And how do we balance this right to organize with the impacts it has on the economy, the supply chain and the like?

VH: So right now, unions are more popular than in any time since right after World War II, and the reason for that is everything that you mentioned previously, which is that wages have not kept up with inflation. People can't afford to buy a home. We've got kids graduating from college hundreds of thousand dollars in debt, right? Prices have risen, but wages, hours and working conditions have stagnated.

So now we're in a position where workers do have some leverage and also they're just fed up. So 71% of Americans support unions. That is incredibly high, and, you know, nobody said I've never had the question before this time. Well, what do you think, you know, happens when employers have too much leverage. Nobody asked that question, but somehow, when workers have leverage and are negotiating for wages, hours and working conditions, everyone's saying, whoa, what are we going to do?

I think what we're going to do is there is a balance and as Labor Commissioner, I am incredibly proud that I worked very closely with business and labor. I've been a trusted person to both parties standing up for workers and holding bad actors accountable, right? I think that we will get to the place where workers can bargain for wages, hours and working conditions that allow them to have a good life and a middle class.

And that's what we've lost in this country, is a pathway to a middle class for so many people and that's what unions are fighting for. I'm a, I consider myself a labor Democrat. I was a third generation union member. My son's a Teamster, and I also worked in the private sector. So I think we do better when, you know, business is strong and there's lots of jobs.

And when people can go to work and afford to buy a home and have a good life and raise their children and I think live in the 4th Congressional District in the most beautiful place on earth.

And she's hoping to be the next member of Congress in the 4th Congressional District. Thanks so much for joining us today, Val.

VH: Thank you.

Watch our interviews with the other candidates for 4th Congressional District:

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