Eric Hafner is one of three Democrats challenging U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer for the state's 3rd Congressional District seat in the May primary election.
One problem: Hafner doesn't live in the 3rd District. He lives in Toms River, New Jersey, nearly 3,000 miles to the east.
Hafner has never been to Portland. He's never been in Oregon. The closest he's been to the state is a trip to Northern California many years ago.
But Hafner is convinced he could represent the district better than Blumenauer because of his "Portland mentality" blended with a little East Coast swagger.
"I want to also point out that while I may not be from Portland, I do have the Portland mentality," Hafner said. "But I also have a very strong New Jersey attitude, and can therefore be a much stronger, louder advocate for the ideals of Portland than someone who doesn't have that. I would describe myself as someone with the game plan of Abbie Hoffman and the determination of Nelson Mandela, but with the swagger of Tony Soprano.
"I am a Portlander at heart, I just haven't physically arrived yet."
Hafner, 27, said he's the best candidate to represent the district that stretches from Southwest 45th Avenue in the west, Highway 211 to the south, the Columbia River in the north and the Mount Hood National Forest in the east. He slammed Blumenauer for taking campaign donations from "Nike sweatshops" and supporting "pro-polluter, anti-worker, anti-union" trade pacts.
Before you start thinking, "He can't do that, can he?", the answer is, yes, he can. Steve Trout, elections director with the secretary of state's office, said that Hafner can run for the Oregon seat from New Jersey because the U.S. Constitution only requires congressional candidates to be at least 25, a U.S. citizen for seven years and a citizen of the state where he or she is elected, after the general election (Article 1, Section 2).
Having a candidate run for an Oregon office from outside the state is more than just a little unusual, said Jim Moore, director of Pacific University's Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation. It's "extremely rare." The only recent example Moore could muster was Tootie Smith's 2014 run as a Republican for the 5th Congressional District seat held by Kurt Schrader. Smith, a Clackamas County commissioner at the time, lived outside Schrader's district.
(Another 3rd District Democrat challenging Blumenauer this spring, Charles Rand Barnett of Southwest Portland, also lives about two blocks outside the congressional district. Barrett has lived in his Southwest Julia Street home for three years but spent most of his life in the 3rd Congressional District, so he decided to run for that seat, not the 1st District seat, where he lives. "I identify with Portland and District 3," Barnett said. "I don't know much about Hillsboro, the coast or even Beaverton.")
Blumenauer's response? The congressman who has held the seat since 1996, prefers to highlight his lifelong ties to the Rose City and the 3rd Congressional District. "Earl was born and raised in this congressional district, graduating from Centennial High School and Lewis and Clark College," said Nicole L'Esperance, communications director for Blumenauer's re-election campaign. "He has dedicated his life to working with and serving Oregonians. He's grateful for the level of support his constituents have provided, and he hopes they will continue to allow him to serve as their voice in Congress."
An undisclosed location
Hafner's name will appear on the primary ballot regardless of where he lives, but if he wins in November, Hafner must relocate to Portland. That could complicate things for the New Jersey challenger, who says he is technically homeless, moving from place to place to avoid being caught by police in connection with a November 2011 arrest in Fair Haven, New Jersey, for marijuana possession. After the arrest and court fight, Hafner became a passionate advocate for medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana legalization, something that rubbed law enforcement and some political leaders the wrong way, he said.
Hafner also said he was a victim of police brutality when he was 16, and has been battling ever since to hold the officers involved responsible. He holds a California medical marijuana card for treatment of PTSD.
"I am currently in an undisclosed location that is not a normal residence avoiding detection by the New Jersey authorities who want to throw me in jail for political reasons," Hafner said. "So, the last place I am going to show up right now is somewhere that it would be very easy to tie me to. But if I win the primary, and by default the general election, that could change things."
This isn't the first time Hafner has run for a congressional seat in another state. In 2016, he sought the Republican nomination in Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District against Angela Aulani Kaaihue, and picked up 5,876 votes (44 percent). His residence was listed as a post office box in Hilo. Hafner's campaign theme included calling himself a Hawaiian nationalist, a medical cannabis patient advocate and a supporter of criminal law reforms.
Kaaihue lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the general election. Hafner said he ran as a Republican because he hoped to challenge Gabbard, who he called a "closet conservative," in the general election.
'Not a normal candidate'
Hafner said he has been active in all shades of politics. In 2010, he worked on Highlands, New Jersey, Mayor Anna Little's campaign for Congress (Little, a Tea Party favorite, lost that race). He supported Libertarian Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's 2012 presidential bid.
Hafner also was active in Democratic politics, saying he volunteered for a presidential campaign when he was 13 and supported Democratic candidates in Hawaii and elsewhere. "I was taking a page out of my late hero Dennis Peron's (LGBT activist who legalized medical marijuana in California) playbook, who had previously run for governor of California as a Republican," Hafner said.
Hafner's campaign against Blumenauer is highlighted by challenging the Portland Democrat's cannabis support (long an advocate for weed legalization, Blumenauer helped start a Congressional Cannabis Caucus) and slamming him for support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"The kind of marijuana 'legalization' that Earl Blumenauer supports is an overly regulated system that serves rich white people who have a lot of money to put up and start a dispensary chain," Hafner said. "It doesn't help poor people who want to start a marijuana business because of all the red tape designed to make it a rich white boys' club."
Hafner admits it might be tough to get Portlanders to consider a candidate from New Jersey, but he's convinced his passion and drive give him an edge because he's "not a normal candidate."
"I think in a certain way having someone who isn't from Portland, but believes in the ideals of Portland, can be a much more powerful advocate in Congress for many social issues, because I can't be written off as someone from what other people might just view as a hippie enclave as far as things like cannabis reform," Hafner said. "In my heart, I am a Portlander, I just haven't gotten there yet. But elect me and I will never leave."
3RD DISTRICT CANDIDATES ON THE MAY 15 BALLOT
Charles Rand Barnett
Marc W Koller
David W Walker
(No Republican is listed on the district's primary election ballot.)