Oregon Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer reflects on first year in office

Oregon’s sole Republican congresswoman said her first year in office has gone well despite “hiccups.” 

U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, who narrowly won the 5th Congressional District last year and faces another bruising campaign in 2024, told the Capital Chronicle she’s proud of her work on homelessness and mental health in Congress and looks forward to doing more on fentanyl, tolling and agriculture in 2024. 

“I think we did good work,” Chavez-DeRemer told the Capital Chronicle. “I think we worked hard, and of course there were hiccups along the way with the speakership and some of those unfortunate hiccups for us as Republicans in the majority. But I think I kept my head down (and) I really tried to work hard for Oregonians, to let them know that they made the right choice when they elected me a year ago.” 

She said each of the 13 bills she introduced stemmed from local issues, including the fentanyl crisis and tolling. One of her bills, the Housing our Military Veterans Effectively Act of 2023 to increase funding for programs helping homeless veterans, passed the House on a 408-10 vote earlier this month. 

Chavez-DeRemer has also repeatedly interrogated U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other Federal Highway Administration officials about plans to toll Interstates 5 and 205, and she said she plans to keep up the pressure in 2024. Gov. Tina Kotek earlier this year ordered a moratorium on toll collections until 2026, but Chavez-DeRemer said she needs answers about what will happen after the two-year pause. 

“This is an issue that really I believe has brought Republicans and Democrats together in Oregon,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “I don’t believe that the studies have been correct. I think that there’s been some violations in the approval. So I’m going to keep asking those questions.” 

The Capitol-based publication The Hill last week named her one of its 23 “Changemakers,” a bipartisan group of lawmakers, activists, journalists and others who made a mark in the political world this year. Chavez-DeRemer drew praise for breaking with the Republican conference on government spending bills and refusing to support Ohio Republican Jim Jordan for speaker (she eventually voted for Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana). 

Her stances at times have resulted in political threats from fellow conservatives. After Chavez-DeRemer pledged to oppose any legislation that restricted government funding for abortion, anti-abortion groups vowed to support a primary challenger. She later voted for legislation blocking the Department of Defense from reimbursing travel expenses for service members and their dependents who travel to obtain abortions or other reproductive health care if such care isn’t available where they’re stationed. 

But most attacks come from Democratic groups nationally and in her district, which has more registered Democrats than Republicans. The Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Integrity Project labeled Chavez-DeRemer one of its “Biden 17” – Republican members of Congress in districts won by President Joe Biden – and has spent more than $1 million on digital ads targeting Chavez-DeRemer and other vulnerable Republicans over their support for Johnson and an impeachment inquiry. 

She joined all other Republicans in voting last week for the impeachment inquiry, which Democrats blasted as a distraction without evidence. Chavez-DeRemer stressed that she doesn’t yet support an actual impeachment vote. 

“Impeaching the president is a matter that I think we should take seriously and all Americans should, and so we shouldn’t use it to abuse the process,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “It shouldn’t be for political reasons. It should be to ask questions that head down that pathway, but it was an inquiry vote.” 

Other criticism came from closer to home. In October, local Democratic groups frustrated by Chavez-DeRemer’s lack of town halls held their own town halls in Oregon City, Bend and Albany, complete with cardboard cutouts of her. Organizers answered questions on her behalf, drawing from her public statements and votes.

Oregonians have grown used to town hall meetings – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley hold at least one in every county each year. Chavez-DeRemer has instead held quarterly telephonic town hall meetings, taking an hour to answer questions. 

Chavez-DeRemer defended her decision not to hold in-person meetings, saying telephone meetings were a better way for all her constituents to have access to her. 

“People want to make a big deal about the in-person but I can tell you this, I have talked to so many – and you know what else I do, which I love to do, is my team will get me some of the emails that come in weekly, daily and they’ll put those notes on my desk so I can read through, whether in-district calls or here in Washington, and then I make those personal phone calls back,” she said. 

She said her office has closed more than 480 constituent cases and returned about $520,000 to constituents who were missing their Social Security benefits. 

Chavez-DeRemer described bipartisanship as one of the most important issues to her as a member of Congress. Her office sends press releases on at least a weekly basis touting her support for bipartisan legislation on everything from fentanyl to passport processing. 

She serves on committees with the three Democratic women who represent other Oregon districts: Rep. Suzanne Bonamici on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Rep. Val Hoyle on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Rep. Andrea Salinas on the Agriculture Committee. She also meets regularly with Oregon’s other Republican in Congress, Rep. Cliff Bentz, and worked with Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Democratic dean of the state’s delegation, on a bipartisan bill to protect states’ rights to regulate marijuana. 

“Really I think in this day and age, the only way we’re going to make good progress is to work with our colleagues across the aisle and do good work,” Chavez-DeRemer said. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.