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The boundaries of the Sixth Congressional District won't be drawn on the map for months, but the former Multnomah County Commissioner is the first to begin campaigning.

COURTESY PHOTO - Former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith has thrown her hat in the ring for Oregon's Sixth Congressional District. Former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith is the first to thrust an oar in the water in the race to represent Oregon's unbounded Sixth Congressional District.

Smith, a Democrat, announced her candidacy to the public Tuesday, June 22 — months ahead of the autumn deadlines for the political process that will actually draw the district onto the map ahead of a ballot in 2022.

In an interview, Smith said ending voter suppression was "the most important thing that we should be doing," while also highlighting the symmetry between police reforms proposed federally and the policy slate she crafted while running for Portland City Hall.

"We need a bigger, larger, more aggressive voice from someone of color who has experience and a track record," she said. "Qualified immunity needs to be taken off the table … and police have to be charged like everyone else if they murder people in our community."

After eight years at the county dais, Smith ran unsuccessfully for City Hall in a campaign won by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in 2018. Smith was bested again by Commissioner Dan Ryan in a nail-biter run-off election last year.

If elected, she would be the first Black person to represent Oregon on Capitol Hill, and stressed that her legislative priorities would be guided by her experience as a single mother who raised a Black son, Jordan, in Portland, as well as her upbringing in a union family in Michigan and her 2011 health scare involving a brain tumor.

"Had I not had the health care that I did at the county … I would have never been able to survive," said Smith, who later drafted a Medicare-For-All proposal. "I thought about all the other people who didn't have the luxury of having that kind of health insurance." COURTESY PHOTO - Loretta Smith poses for a photo with her son, Jordan, and granddaughters MaLayah and Ada.

But Smith, 56, also carries baggage from her history in office, including allegations that she was a bullying boss to certain employees and misused her county credit card, though she later repaid the funds and denied the claims of harassment.

Smith says she has moved on from the issue but said she tries not to repeat her mistakes.

"I have so much passion in helping the most vulnerable in our community, so sometimes that boils over," she said.

It's still an open question whether Smith will live in the district she hopes to represent.

State lawmakers plan to craft in September the new sixth district map, which was spurred by Oregon's 11% jump in population in the last decade, but if they can't agree it will go to a special judicial panel that should hammer out the maps in November, barring no further legal challenges. Candidates have until March to file for office.

But unlike Oregon state lawmakers, there's no district residency requirement for election to the House of Representatives, as the U.S. Constitution only requires living somewhere within the state.

Smith, who lives in Northeast Portland, said her two decades of experience working as an aide to current U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden had given her the confidence to jump in the race before anyone else.

"I've been exposed to issues around the state, and if the congressional line is drawn anywhere in Oregon, I know a little bit about it," she said.

Reporter Peter Wong contributed to this article.

Zane Sparling
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