In what is slowly becoming a weekly thing, I had the opportunity to speak to Alek Skarlatos, Republican nominee for Oregon’s 4th congressional district, over the phone this past Tuesday. Below is the transcribed interview of our conversation. If you would like to hear the full recorded call, it is all the way at the end of the article. I would like to thank Alek for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me.
What inspired you to run for Congress?
Skarlatos: Honestly, there were a lot of things. I met my state senator on a plane to D.C, we started talking politics and agreed on mostly everything. The more I learned about the issues facing southwest Oregon, the angrier I got. I really just wanted to do something about it. For me it was mostly the timber issue and the fact that our economy and county governments across the district have really had a tough time only for political reasons. It’s really kind of a disgusting problem once you research it a bit.
How much has what you did in service of this country come into play on how you’ve run your campaign?
Skarlatos: I’m not sure, that’s kind of a tough one. I’m definitely a veteran and I’m not afraid to call things by how I see it I suppose. I wouldn’t say that it’s defined my life or how I’ve run my campaign. We have an excellent team here and I feel I don’t have to dictate a whole lot. Everybody knows their job and does what they’re supposed to do. I really couldn’t happier with my team.
How much did you personally change after the events on that train in Paris?
Skarlatos: I wouldn’t necessarily say that it changed who I am, but it definitely changed my outlook on life. It gave me a sense of mortality and a want to accomplish as much as I can with the time that I’m given on Earth. It really just changed my outlook on life and my appreciation of the small things. I just want to live a life that’s worth living and try to accomplish whatever I can for the people of southwestern Oregon.
What is the experience of running for congress like, especially as a 27 year old with really no prior experiences on congressional campaigns?
Skarlatos: It’s been an interesting road that’s for sure. If it makes any difference to anybody I’ll be 28 by the time I take office. I just really wanted to do something for the people of Southwestern Oregon and there hasn’t really been any candidates that could beat the Democrat incumbent over the last 33 years he’s been in office.
I might not have the thickest resume when it comes to running for office, but I knew I’d be a decent candidate. Like I said I hired an excellent team and we have a great shot at winning this race. That’s really all it comes down to when it comes to politics, when it comes to experience. I’ve been researching the timber industry and issues in Southwest Oregon for almost three years now. I don’t feel like I’m ignorant on the issues by any means.
When you first announced, you were quickly given a lot of press. Did the immediate reaction to your run surprise you at all?
Skarlatos: Not really actually, ever since the train attack we’ve gotten PR for just about everything we’ve done. So I felt like it was about normal. I’m honestly just surprised that they’ve stayed interested. We won our primary and we’ve had a lot of good things going on with the campaign. That’s part of it though, keeping the media interested and nationalizing the race. Luckily, that’s what we’ve been able to do.
You were at first expected to go into a possibly rough primary with Art Robinson, who eventually dropped out to run for the Oregon State Senate. Did you create any relationship with Art or gain any knowledge from him as he’s run this race for the past five elections?
Skarlatos: We’ve talked to him a little bit, mostly after his decision and after the primary. Just to get his two cents on the race since he’s run it so many times. That being said, we’re running our own race. I feel like part of the reason Art Robinson wasn’t successful was because he failed to appeal to the middle. That’s something that my campaign is going to correct. We’re going to appeal quite heavily to the moderates and unaffiliated voters. Especially in the area around Eugene.
That’s really what you have to do if you want to win here. It’s a toss-up district, it’s all about winning the middle and making sure Republicans turn out.
You ended up winning the primary by a substantial margin. What was the feeling like when you won?
Skarlatos: It was a great feeling when we won the primary. Not necessarily because we didn’t expect to win, but because we didn’t expect to win with that large of a margin. We also didn’t expect that high of a turnout. That really, I think bodes well for November. That was really what was exciting about winning the primary and not necessarily just running in the primary.
How has it been fundraising for a major congressional campaign and what are the challenges that come with it?
Skarlatos: The challenge was really just a slow start. We had a lot of problems internally with the campaign early on. We got ourselves sorted out around the middle of Q4 last year and ever since then things have really started to snowball in our favor. I think everyone is going to be pretty surprised when we post this quarter’s numbers. I think that were, hopefully, going to do twice as good next quarter. It’s been very surprising though, because even with coronavirus our fundraising has really taken off.
Even around the time the pandemic started, we did a lot of digital and by-mail fundraising as well. So we were able to get small dollar donations from all across the country with an amazing amount of support. Probably around 95% of our donations have come from small dollar donors, which is incredible.
What’s it like running in a large Congressional district?
Skarlatos: I don’t mind it at all. I’ve enjoyed seeing all the different parts of the district and it’s so large that there is a variety of geography and locations. We’ve got the coast, the Central Valley going up I-5, we’ve got a big mountain range on the East side of the district. Most of it’s timberland and as you go up north you have grass seed farmers.
It’s a very interesting district and it’s very scenic, so I don’t really mind traveling all over it. We’ve just started getting back out on the road and hold some in person events. So far they’ve gone exceptionally well and it’s something that we’re going to do quite a lot, especially before ballots drop. We want to do a couple big road trips across the district, just so we can get to very small town and meet every over that wants to meet me.
You’ve ended up in a race that many analysts say is one that Republicans can come close in, but never get over that hump. Why do you believe you can change that?
Skarlatos: Honestly the reason it hasn’t been a winnable district in the past is simply because there weren’t that many good candidates who weren’t able to fundraise. They weren’t able to appeal to the moderates. We plan on doing all of those things differently.
Oregon is a very interesting state when it comes to structure. There is no real “Oregon GOP” structure. There is no Oregon Republican Party. There’s no one to really strategize or figure out what candidates are running where. So, as a result you pretty much have anybody who wants to run for any seat can and will. There’s no real structure to throw support behind the real serious candidates or the candidates that can win a general election as opposed to those who can win in a primary.
Fortunately for us, we’ve fixed that for our race. We have a lot of help from people in state and even nationally. I just think I’m an ok candidate and I’ve got an excellent team, our fundraising is going incredibly well. If we can keep this trajectory all the way until November I don’t really see anyway we can lose.
Do you think that you can be a catalyst to change and make the Oregon GOP stronger so that the state itself can become more competitive?
Skarlatos: Absolutely. I don’t even necessarily wan to be the catalyst, I want to be the one that makes that change. I want to lay down the structure and help Republicans across the state win elections. Right now the district I’m running, the 4th, should already be Republican. The 5th should be the competitive district and that’s the safe one (for Democrats). Of course there’s a lot of state house and state senate seats that are competitive or we should at least have by now that we don’t.
I’m not sure if Oregon as a state is ever going to turn red. There’s a couple of congressional districts that should be red and like I said on the state level we should be doing better. I would definitely love to help bring in some structure and motivation for a lot of Oregon. Part of the problem is that, because there is no structure and because anybody can run for any thing, we’ve lost so many elections in a row. The people are demoralized and they think you just can’t win in Oregon, period. Which is just not true.
The protection of the Oregon timber industry has been a focal point of your campaign. If you are elected to congress, how do you see yourself keeping this promise and protecting the Oregon timber industry?
Skarlatos: It’s not so much about protecting it as it is bringing it back. There’s really not much of a timber industry left. The real problem is all the federally owned timber land in Oregon is governed by the LNC agreement, which is very specific to Oregon. I don’t want to get too deep down in the weeds for you here, but long story short not only is it a huge part of our economy, because we have some of the most productive timber forests in the world. That’s also how county governments get a huge portion of their taxes is from timber harvest because the land is owned by the federal government. There’s an agreement between the two since I believe the late 20s, early 30s.
Now since the endangered species act has thrown the LNC’s agreement terms out the window, we’re now doing about a fifth of what we were doing in the 80s. We were very successful and wealthy. It shows now, unemployment is through the roof, this is the poorest congressional district in the state. Homelessness is on the rise, drug use is on the rise. We have one of the highest child abuse rates in the country. It’s a real serious problem not just for the economy but for county governments as well. Timber is really all encompassing down here, so I would just like to reach some sort of a compromise with democrats or environmentalists on the timber issue.
There’s a lot of ways where we can make both sides happy. Things that are good for the economy and good for the environment at the same time, that should be already enacted but aren’t. I think that’s honestly because we’ve been represented by one party for too long here in Oregon. Of course we look forward to changing that in the fall if elected.
There’s a lot of different ways to bring it about but with legislation I’d like to see the LNC agreement on a level playing field with the endangered species act. Maybe we still have to worry about the spotted owl, but I think we know now that the spotted owl isn’t going away due to timber harvests. It’s going away due to an invasive species. Regardless, I think we can still worry about the environmental impact of logging while still hitting the 500 million board feed minimum set in the LNC laws.
Maybe the most important question of the day. What was it like working with Clint Eastwood?
Skarlatos: He’s just as cool as you would think, if not cooler. He’s just a very laid back, very in shape, very funny guy.