Les AuCoin speaks at the opening ceremony for the first MAX rail line in 1986. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
A former Oregon legislator known for his ability to reach across the political aisle spoke at the Capitol Tuesday at a time when government looks very different from years past.
Les AuCoin, 77, joined a wave of progressives into government during the post-Watergate era, winning election to Congress from a Portland-area district.
In a conference room Tuesday, AuCoin’s accounts of bipartisan deal-making in Washington seemed far away at a time when the country is grappling with an impeachment inquiry and ever-increasing partisanship. A former state legislator, he served in the U.S. House from 1974 to 1992.
AuCoin jokingly referred to the Capitol as “the scene of many of my crimes in the 70s.”
He read excerpts from his book “Catch and Release: An Oregon life in Politics,” which chronicles his time as a politician.
[ Help build Salem Reporter and local news - SUBSCRIBE ]
He was the first Democrat elected to the House from Oregon’s 1st congressional district in northwest Oregon since it was formed in 1882. During his career, he focused on environmental issues, forest management and abortion rights.
AuCoin described his role in “corn-for-porn,” when the Senate reversed its support for a measure that would impose a ban on “obscene” art for the federal-funded National Endowment for the Arts in exchange for a deal that preserved low grazing fees.
When he was in the Army, AuCoin said, he was chased by a female fighter out of a boxing ring after he told her she needed to go back to the locker room. He said she threw folding chairs at him as he ran.
Most of AuCoin’s stories revolve around policymakers, like former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall and presidential hopeful Joe Biden, who both make appearances in his book.
AuCoin said today’s Congress has “persistent delay,” where issues are packaged into an omnibus bill in a way that leaves room for chicanery.
“That’s not democracy and it really breaks my heart,” he said.
His visit to Salem came on the third day of House impeachment hearings regarding President Donald Trump, who is accused of abusing the power of the presidency by pressuring the president of Ukraine to spy on Biden, one of his current political rivals.
“It should be sobering for Americans,” AuCoin said.
He said Trump should be impeached, and if he were still in Congress he would vote in favor of it.
“It gives me no joy,” he said. “I think it weakens America that we’re in this spot.”
Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.