Loretta Smith

Loretta Smith, a former Multnomah County Comissioner and twice Portland City Council candidate, has her sights set on Oregon's newest congressional district.

On Tuesday, Smith announced her run for Oregon's still to-be-determined sixth congressional seat in 2022.

"I'm running for Congress to tear down the barriers to progress before us and build pathways to equal opportunity to all," said Smith, a Democrat, in a morning press release. Smith is the first candidate to join the race to represent the new district in Congress.

It's still not clear what area the district she's running for will encompass. In April, the US Census Bureau announced that, because Oregon had seen an 11 percent population increase in the past decade, the state would be gaining a new congressional district. State lawmakers are still debating the boundaries of that new district.

Smith currently resides in Northeast Portland. Unlike state representatives, US representatives aren't required to live within the district they represent, meaning the final district determination won't influence her residence.

Smith has a history in Oregon politics, both at the national and local level. Smith spent more than 20 years working for then-US Representative Ron Wyden before winning a seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in 2010, where she represented North Portland. After two terms as a commissioner, Smith ran an unsuccessful campaign for Portland City Council against Jo Ann Hardesty in 2018. She again ran for Portland City Council in 2020, losing narrowly to Dan Ryan in an August runoff election.

Smith is known for her work advocating for youth employment programs and affordable healthcare while on the county commission.

In 2017, several current and former Smith staffers at the county shared allegations that Smith had bullied and harassed them, along with claims Smith had asked them to misuse county finances in various ways. A county investigation into the claims found the harassment claims to be true, but that Smith had reimbursed the county for misused county dollars. Smith threatened to sue the county over the investigation, claiming it was part of a scheme by County Chair Deborah Kafoury to humiliate Smith. The lawsuit never moved forward.

If elected, Smith would be the first Black member of Oregon's congressional delegation. She would also be the fifth Democrat representing Oregon in Congress (the state has one Republican in Congress, Cliff Bentz, who represents Eastern Oregon). In an interview with the Skanner, Smith stressed the importance of the new district going to a Democrat:

"We cannot afford that this seat would go to a Republican," Smith said. "I figure it’s going to be a purple-ish seat, probably leaning Democrat. But we still have an opportunity to maintain the House, if we get this sixth seat…We need to make sure we have someone who is a truth-teller.”