Albert Lee challenges Blumenauer for 3rd congressional seat
Since 1996, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer has held sway over a vast Oregon territory belted by downtown Portland, Bonneville Dam, Beavercreek and Government Camp.
Albert Lee wants voters to break the cycle.
"I believe that democracy requires choice," Lee says. "Otherwise, we have rulers."
The 44-year-old is mounting a primary challenge against Rep. Blumenauer — whose political career in Salem began before Lee was born.
A member of both the Oregon Democratic Party and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Lee readily deploys liberal by-words like "the Green New Deal" and the "Fight for $15" (which he says is not truly enough for a living wage). He wants Bernie Sanders to be the next president.
Lee also is a veteran — who was born in South Korea to an African-American enlisted father and a Korean mother — and the first in his family to attend college. His Missouri childhood was riven by domestic violence that left the family living in homeless shelters.
Does that mean he has what it takes to bump Blumenauer?
Here are five questions to find out:
Tribune: Should America's woes be blamed on capitalism?
Lee: A lot of them can be rooted in the capitalist system. Capitalism does exactly what it's supposed to do: It secures and hordes wealth, and takes it out of the system. But in economic terms, that's waste.
Capitalism has been very proficient, if we've got three people owning as much as the bottom half of Americans. But again, that's unsustainable.
The thing that made me walk into the door of the (Democratic Socialists of America) was just that. I'm looking at the system, and I don't see how this is going to continue to be sustainable.
Tribune: What is America's role internationally?
Lee: U.S. foreign policy — and this is going to be bold — it's been a white supremacist foreign policy for years, when you look at who we target and who we attack.
We shouldn't be a policeman of the world. We spend as much as the next seven countries combined when it comes to military expenditures. That money can be very well used to take care of Medicare for All.
Tribune: Go on...
Lee: Health care, to me, is a human right. But there is a consequence to that. And that means the destruction of an entire industry: private health insurance ... there are going to be people who lose their jobs.
I think that there are choices and the choices come with hard consequences. But that's what leadership takes.
Tribune: Tell us about your childhood.
Lee: My dad, growing up, I didn't really know him. He came home 30 days out of the year. He was basically a stranger to me.
He returned to us when I was a sophomore in high school ... and he brought back with him his demons.
I don't want to sugarcoat it. He became abusive both verbally and physically, and we ended up having to leave. But, like many victims of domestic violence, we came back. And then we had to leave again.
Tribune: Why challenge an entrenched incumbent?
Lee: We can't wait. We have a series of crises that aren't being addressed by the incumbent or by Congress in general. I'm talking about the climate crisis. We've got eight to 12 years. If you want me to sit in City Hall, or a state legislature, and eat up those eight to 12 years, then one of my missions is already lost.
When we look at our current composition in Congress, we don't have a lot of good ideas out there. I think there are different ways to get to consensus.
JUST THE FACTS
Education: Creighton University and George Washington University Law School
Military service: Two years with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at Arlington National Cemetery
Former member: TriMet's Transit Equity Advisory Committee, Police Oversight Citizen Committee and The Giving Tree Executive Board
Current member: Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon Board of Directors, NAACP, Korean American Coalition of Oregon and the Portland Police Bureau Officer Hiring Panel
Work: Stepping down as dean of business and computing at Portland Community College in order to run for office
Family: Raising a 5-year-old daughter, Cora, with his wife, Hannah Lee.