Rep. Brian Clem says his “spirit is wounded” about state of politics as he plans to retire

Rep. Brian Clem announces he won’t seek re-election for a ninth term in the Oregon House on Monday, Sept. 27.

Oregon Rep. Brian Clem has a history of making important decisions on his birthday.

The Salem Democrat, who has represented House District 21 in the legislature since 2007, first decided to run for office over a 33rd birthday dinner with his wife in Portland.

Clem, who turned 49 several weeks ago, said reflecting on his birthday this year helped him realize it was time to leave the Oregon Legislature and focus on his family.

He made the surprise announcement Monday during a floor speech prior to a House vote on redistricting maps, saying he would not seek re-election for a ninth term.

“I feel like a big burden is off me,” Clem told Salem Reporter.

Clem said his mother drove his decision.

She has Alzheimer’s disease, and the family moved her to Salem in 2017 so Clem could be her caregiver.

“I really need to be a good son to a woman who raised me as a single mother and cashed out her pension so we didn’t feel poor, even though we were growing up,” he said. “I know she’s not going to remember me at some point.”

Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, left, and Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, wait to see the outcome of a vote on House Bill 4303 during a one-day special session at the Oregon State Capitol on Monday, August 10. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Though the political climate in Oregon isn’t the reason he’s leaving the Legislature, Clem said he feels he’ll be freer to speak his mind, “knowing I can be more outspoken in public and in public venues about things I think could be done better.”

He was one of two House Democrats to vote against the redistricting maps, which passed the chamber on a largely party-line vote. Clem said on the floor he reached the conclusion the Legislature shouldn’t be drawing maps because of elected officials’ natural interest in preserving boundaries for their own districts. He said the fight over redistricting was part of a larger increase in partisan conflict.

“I’d say my spirit is wounded about where we’re at,” he said.

Clem said decades ago, Oregon was known as a state that worked, where the rancor of Washington, D.C. politics hadn’t infested the state Legislature.

He recalled working with Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, a Salem Republican, to revitalize Salem City Club before his first run for office and said the club’s mission was to foster civic engagement and dialogue.

“I know so many people who left the Republican Party over the vitriolic stuff with Trump,” he said, adding that he’s seen some former Democrats leave the party as well. “I do think there’s a third force of people who want the ‘Oregon Way’ back and I don’t blame them at all for not choosing a party.”

Clem said he has no plans to seek other elective office.

“This is not a prelude to another announcement about a launch for Congress or something else next week,” he said.

For now, he’ll be focused on his family and his businesses, including computer repair business OnSite PC Help and Pangaea Trading Company, which focuses on exporting Oregon goods overseas.

“I just want to thank the people who voted for me all those years and the people who didn’t, and lived in my district and wrote me anyway,” Clem said. “It’s just been a great honor.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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