A Republican Air Force veteran and attorney plans to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle, counting on voters’ frustrations with crime and homelessness and suspicion of Hoyle’s ties to a troubled marijuana business to overcome a Democratic registration edge in a southern Oregon congressional district.
Monique DeSpain, a 30-year veteran of the Air Force and Oregon Air National Guard who retired as a colonel, launched her campaign for the 4th Congressional District this week. She said her campaign is focused on public safety, creating a prosperous economy and on ensuring government transparency and accountability.
That last point is a dig at Hoyle, a freshman congresswoman and former head of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries who Republicans have sought to paint as ethically compromised. Hoyle, like many Oregon Democratic candidates, received campaign donations from the owners of La Mota, a cannabis company involved in the downfall of former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan because Fagan took a side job for the company’s owners while they were involved in an audit conducted by her office. Hoyle returned most of her La Mota contributions after she decided to run for Congress instead of reelection as labor commissioner.
As labor commissioner, she also pushed for a nonprofit organization founded by La Mota co-owner Rosa Cazares to receive a $554,000 grant, Willamette Week reported. She has declined to turn her personal cell phone over to the labor bureau to extract public records, instead hiring her own attorney to decide which texts count as public records. Under Oregon law, text messages, emails and other communication sent or received on personal devices are considered public records if they involve government business.
DeSpain, who spent much of her time in the military as an attorney with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, said her experience conducting workplace investigations stands in sharp contrast to Hoyle’s stance on public records.
“As a JAG I used to do investigations like that, and if somebody refused to provide me with a record that would facilitate the investigation, I would consider that obstruction,” she said. “It’s just not how a person in a leadership position like Val Hoyle has been should be behaving.”
Hoyle has denied any wrongdoing. A spokeswoman told the Oregonian/OregonLive last week that Hoyle left decisions about what texts to turn over to the bureau to her attorney, who previously worked as a public records lawyer for former Gov. Kate Brown.
DeSpain hasn’t held elected office before, but she has worked for the past few years for one of the state’s most prominent Republicans, Salem state Rep. Kevin Mannix. Mannix, the architect of Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, has run twice for both attorney general and governor, lost a congressional primary in 2008 and previously served as chairman of the Oregon Republican Party.
She joined Mannix’s law firm and another organization he led, Common Sense for Oregon, that sued Brown over her use of clemency powers, including releasing nearly 1,000 people from prison early during the COVID pandemic. A circuit court judge in Marion County halted the release, but the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and affirmed Brown’s power to commute sentences.
DeSpain described herself as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. She submitted written testimony to the Legislature opposing an omnibus gun bill that would have required all gun buyers to obtain a permit and require any legal challenges to the bill to be filed in Marion County to prevent opponents from venue-shopping to find a favorable judge in a more conservative rural county.
She said she agreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion should be regulated by states, saying she wouldn’t support a nationwide abortion ban or efforts to codify Roe v. Wade federally.
“Oregonians have made perfectly clear that they’re pro choice, and the law is fixed on that,” DeSpain said. “It can be modified through the state legislature, which is the proper place for that, and as a congresswoman for Oregon, I will not support the return of the abortion issue to the federal government.”
DeSpain said she would be an independent voice, not in lockstep with her party, but couldn’t immediately give an example of an issue where she differed from the Republican party line. She eventually said she would disagree with Republicans who don’t view border security as an issue.
“If I’m confronted with the specter of people not agreeing on securing the border, I will be having a differing opinion on that,” she said. “With my military background, my life experience, my legal background, I know that that is a real threat to our country and will not have any issue with disagreeing with somebody who’s not going to see it that way.”
Hoyle had a 7-point win in 2022 over former Army National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, who is now running for a state House district. Skarlatos came within 5 points of Hoyle’s predecessor, longtime Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, in 2020, but redistricting in 2021 gave Democrats a larger advantage in the district. Nevertheless, GOP groups including the National Republican Congressional Committee have indicated that flipping Oregon’s 4th and 6th districts and reelecting U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the 5th District are among their top priorities in 2024.
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