Interviewer: Alek Skarlatos is running for Congress in Oregon's fourth District looking to unseat longtime representative Peter DeFazio. Skarlatos is undoubtedly best known though for his role in stopping an attempted terrorist attack while on a train bound for Paris in 2015. The former National Guard soldier and his two friends were honored for their bravery by both the French and United States governments. The three also starred in a Clint Eastwood film about that fateful day. Since then, Skarlatos has been back in Roseburg where he's lived since high school. I met him at Casey's restaurant which has been making headlines of its own recently.
Alek: They actually were hit with a $14,000 fine by the State of Oregon for opening ten days early during the corona virus when Douglas County (where we are now) had only I think two remaining cases that were both from the hospital. When I heard about the fine that they were hit with I felt like I needed to talk to them and figure out kind of what they were dealing with with the State and I kind of really just talked to them about how they thought the State was being too heavy-handed and what they think the State can do better.
Interviewer: In general how do you feel about the state's response to the corona virus or the nation since you're running for a national position?
Alek: So I think the state and really the country has kind of gone a little bit over the top when it comes to
coronavirus. I understand the need for a shutdown, especially in the major metropolitan areas, but after getting a few weeks into it I just think that we went a little overboard shutting down everywhere regardless of the number of cases. Especially in rural Oregon where there really aren't that many cases. People are more spread out less likely to spread the disease. I think we should have adjusted a little bit earlier and I think Casey's had to do that themselves just to survive and of course they were punished by the state of Oregon.
Interviewer: That's the last time we're gonna talk about coronavirus. We're gonna talk about you now. So everybody knows who you are or thinks they do. You're on Dancing with the Stars. You're a national hero. International hero. Starred in a Clint Eastwood movie. What don't people know?
Alek: I hope they know that we're running for Congress. I think that's the biggest thing we're trying to get out now is that I'm running for Congress in the 4th Congressional District of Oregon. I don't think people know that I'm a Republican but that's also what I'm running on. It's just something I've kind of felt like I needed to do after seeing really how this part of Oregon has been treated. I mean this is the poorest Congressional District in Oregon. We used to be one of the wealthiest. We had the wealthiest School District in the country in the 80s and of course now I mean we're dealing with very high child abuse rates, very high homeless rates and drug use rates.
Interviewer: So it's kind of a pessimistic picture. Why do you want to represent District 4?
Alek: Well I want to represent district 4 to turn it around of course. I mean I'm not a pessimistic person. I know we can do a lot better. We have done a lot better in the past, it's just the last 25-30 years conveniently about the same time that Peter DeFazio has been in office... we've really taken a very steep decline as a district and that's what I would look forward to turning around.
Interviewer: So obviously Peter DeFazio has been in office since before you were even born. What specific areas has he failed in?
Alek: Well I think… I mean not to mention I believe in term limits and I think 33 years is too long for any politician but he hasn't really brought home the bacon for his district. I mean he's been in an office for 33 years. He's the chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and still has never passed a major piece of legislation. Which I mean when you look at what this district needs, transportation and infrastructure is one of the top requirements and he's the Chairman and still unable to accomplish anything. To me it’s shocking. Not to mention the timber industry here is kind of what we rely on. There's no real back-up plan to the timber industry for southwestern Oregon and seeing how little income has been brought in from the timber industry... how little tax dollars for county government has been brought in from the timber industry is probably going to be my main priority: get us back out into the woods managing the forest in a way that prevents forest fires and then brings in money for the counties and schools and things like that.
Interviewer: So realistically what can a congressman do to make that happen?
Alek: Well realistically it pretty much is the sole responsibility of the federal government. Since the ONC laws made a huge chunk of land in Oregon federal, it's the job of the federal government to solve that problem. So I would look at reforming the ONC Act and getting us back up at least to our mandatory minimums of five hundred million board feet a year just to help out the economy. Help out county governments that rely on those tax dollars and of course to help out our economy and prevent forest fires.
Interviewer: Obviously timber very high on your priority list. What are some of the other high priority items?
Interviewer: You mentioned the riots that we're seeing right now. So what are your views on police reform?
Alek: Well I'm not for defunding police at all. I mean I think that would only make the problem worse. I think the problem really is a lack of training and by defunding police you're only going to get worse trained police. I mean if they don't have the funding for training that's gonna be the end result. So I would probably put the emphasis more on training police and better equipment even or even the militarization of police. I just think that they need to be instructed with how to deal with people. I mean not every person is the same. You can't treat them
the same. I mean a lot of people have problems dealing with people with mental health issues. Again, talking about the fourth congressional district. Here we have a very high percentage of population that are homeless or have mental problems that police necessarily aren't trained to deal with. And then of course in the cities... I mean like the George Floyd incident... which of course nobody agrees with... if we're just trying to figure out what the best solution is to those kinds of problems then I think it's more training for police as opposed to less and therefore less funding.
Interviewer: What about some of the other reforms we've heard like Amash’s qualified immunity
bill? Are you supportive of any of those bills that are being introduced?
Alek: I’m not sure what qualified immunity is. Sorry.
Interviewer: It’s where you can't sue someone for violating your rights unless it's already been clearly established in another precedent that someone had their rights violated in the exact same way. So reforms like that would make it easier for people to sue the police department.
Alek: I'm not sure if that's necessarily the best route to go and honestly I'm not that educated on that specific one. Police departments get sued all the time so I'm not sure if making it easier for them to be sued is the right answer either. I mean you can even sue the police officer specifically by name and the police chief by name so they get hit with lawsuits all the time and I don't necessarily think that that's the problem. I mean I guess I'd have to look more into that issue honestly.
Interviewer: In terms of where you affiliate yourself or do you consider yourself a Republican? Are you going to be the kind of Republican who votes along party lines on everything or are you open to bipartisanship?
Alek: I'm absolutely open to bipartisanship. I mean we kind of need that especially in this day and age and especially with O&C reform which like I said it's gonna be my main priority. This is something where Republicans and Democrats should agree on but they don't because of party lines. I mean harvesting more trees is actually better for the environment. When you count global warming reducing emissions overall and carbon dumped into the atmosphere due to forest fires and decaying trees that aren't allowed to be harvest logged… this is a huge area for compromise that Republicans and Democrats should agree on that we don't. I consider myself to be a more libertarian leaning Republican personally but I mean I would definitely be bipartisan. I mean Peter DeFazio... seeing his voting record and how often he votes along party lines to me just shows that you can't really get anything done if you vote along party lines every single time.
Interviewer: What about your views on the president? Are you supportive of him in general? Of his demeanor?
Alek: I mean I support the president. I think everything that he's done so far has been overall a net positive for this country and I think we're at least moving in the right direction. Obviously there are some specific things and maybe his demeanor that I think he could do better but I don't think that there's any person in the world that's perfect. I think President Trump is at least moving the country in the right direction overall.
Interviewer: So on the podcast that we were talking about earlier, Free Range America, at one point you said that we have a choice this election between basically freedom and socialism. What do you mean by that?
Alek: Well I just mean that if you look at where this country is heading... I mean it seems like we're getting more and more divided. Democrats are becoming more socialist and Republicans I guess you could say are becoming more extreme in whatever way you think Republicans are extreme. And it's just becoming more clear: there's a larger difference between Democrats and Republicans. And I believe Republicans are the party that best represents freedom and Democrats I think are trying to move this country and into more socialist points of views. Like you see with Bernie Sanders and even Peter DeFazio and AOC and Nancy Pelosi. And I just think that it's just becoming a more and more clear choice for Americans and I hope they side with me. I mean like I said Peter DeFazio has had 33 years to accomplish his agenda and prove why he should be reelected and I think that our district overall is worse off because of Peter DeFazio, not better. And I think it's time we give someone else a shot.
Interviewer: So with him having been there for 33 years, how do you campaign against something like that? He has all of the experience. All of the backers and the funding. All the connections. What's your strategy?
Alek: Well I think it's just that. I mean he's been there for 33 years he has all of the backing from PACs and special interests. He's a very senior member of Congress and he still hasn't been able to accomplish anything major. And he still hasn't been able to bring home the bacon for his district. I mean I'm not necessarily just campaigning as an anti DeFazio. I mean there's a lot of things we disagree on but I would like to see this congressional district move in a totally opposite direction of what Peter DeFazio would like to see. I mean his latest infrastructure bill is so extreme and he didn't work with Republicans at all that they're not even going to entertain the idea. They're gonna go with the Senate's infrastructure bill instead and when you're that partisan and that divisive I mean it's no wonder why you can't get anything accomplished.
Interviewer: Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like your campaign is very on-the-ground, kind of organically growing.
Alek: We're grassroots but we're not off the cuff or shooting from the hip. But yeah almost all of our donations have come from small dollar donors across the state, across the country.
Interviewer: And that was gonna be one of my points too. Obviously DeFazio has all of the big donations. He's you know out fundraising you by a huge margin but you're actually…
Alek: -Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa
Interviewer: He's got like 1 million something already…
Alek: -He has more money in the bank than we do but we've actually been out fundraising him since the start of 2020.
Interviewer: Particularly with individual contributions. The small like 100/200/500…
Alek: -That’s the only way we're going to out-fundraise him. Because I mean as an incumbent he has the advantage with PACs and even corporations and so if we're gonna out fundraise Peter DeFazio we have to do it with small dollar donors across the country.
Interviewer: What do you think it says about your campaign that you are really resonating with the you know average Joe on the street who is willing to write you a check for 200 bucks?
Alek: I mean just that. I mean that's how we're raising our money. That's how we're getting our support. We've had people message our page all the time saying that they’re lifelong Democrats. I mean if you look at this race or the history of this race... I mean we've had 10 years of art Robinson versus Peter DeFazio. People on the right and the left are tired of both of those choices and they probably think both choices are too extreme. We're trying... I mean I'm obviously running as conservative, and a very fiscal conservative, but we're trying to be the choice for all the people in the middle and we're running on the common-sense issues that I think most people would like to see accomplished. I mean because even if I run on a divisive issue on the right or the left the odds of it getting accomplished once I'm elected are still very small. So we're running on the things that most people agree with and most people want to see accomplished. Like timber, VA, health care and the economy.
Interviewer: It's no surprise to you who's lived in Oregon for well over a decade that it's a very blue state. This particular seat hasn't been held by a Republican for almost forty years. Realistically, how do you turn a district like this red?
Alek: Well like you said: Oregon of course is a very blue state but this district has been trending more and more red as the years go by. It's gone red for presidential candidates, governor's candidates, Secretary of State candidates, it's just never gone red of course from the congressional race that we're running in. And part of that is a lack of good Republican candidates and organization on the Republican side. And of course that's something that we're hoping to change. But I mean President Trump only lost this district by about 550 votes in 2016. It was the closest congressional district in the country that he lost. The Cook PVI I think is zero which is even so theoretically anyway it should be a tie. I mean it should be considered a toss-up district especially when you consider that again, Peter DeFazio, he votes with AOC 96% of the time but he's from a toss-up district and she's not. Peter DeFazio does not represent this district anymore and that's why I think that it's winnable.
Interviewer: Is your only other like political background when you ran for Douglas County Commissioner?
Alek: Correct. I've been interested in politics for a while now. I met my state senator on a plane and he encouraged me to look at politics as a way of continuing to fight for what we believe in and I mean honestly the more I learned the angrier I got. Especially with the timber issues and the way the economy in southwestern Oregon has gone downhill since the late 80s. And I mean it just made me angry enough to want to actually do something about it.
Interviewer: So obviously I'm interviewing you right now... you're not currently a county commissioner. What happened in that election and what did you learn from it?
Alek: In that election I learned a lot. I learned that politics is a very dirty business so I'm not going into this race naive at all. I also learned that it's tough to run an outsider race and that you need to do a lot of certain things very specifically, especially getting grassroots support on your side. There is no real substitution for grassroots support. Yeah I mean you can have all the money in the world but if people don't want to let you they're not gonna let you. And so I mean I learned a lot. It was a huge learning experience and I'm hoping to take all that experience into this election against DeFazio.
Interviewer: Assuming it's November-- you get elected, how are you gonna stay in touch with the community? Are you gonna get an apartment in DC?
Alek: Yeah you pretty much have to get an apartment in DC. I mean I'm gonna be there probably six months out of the year but I mean I still live in Roseburg and I love it here. I would much rather live in Roseburg full-time than DC, so yeah I mean I would absolutely stay in touch with the district. I mean I've lived here over ten years. This is my home. These are the people I'm fighting for. This is the reason why I'm going to Congress. Not to be a politician. I would be happy with just serving two or three terms and if I can get what I came to accomplish done then I would be totally happy to ride off into the sunset and never deal with politics again. Like I said it's a horrible business and I'm only running because I want to actually accomplish something for the people here.
Interviewer: And if you don't win, what's next?
Alek: I don't really have a back-up plan. To be honest, I mean we're kind of going all-in. I mean I think we stand a very good chance of winning in November so I really don't have a back-up plan and I'm not trying to even put my head in that space.
End of interview