By Jonathan J. Cooper
The Associated Press
BEAVERTON, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon congressman who has acknowledged inappropriate behavior during the 2010 election campaign will face a primary challenge in the next election.
State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said Monday he will challenge Democratic Rep. David Wu for the party’s nomination in 2012. Avakian’s campaign announced support from a number of key Democrats, including state House Democratic Leader Dave Hunt and Metro Council Chair Tom Hughes.
Wu has been battling media reports about erratic behavior that led several key staff members to quit after last year’s election. He has acknowledged taking a painkiller from a campaign donor despite an allergy to an enzyme found in many drugs. He also acknowledged sending staff members photos of himself wearing a tiger costume.
“This race is about two things — what our community needs and how it can be best represented,” Avakian told dozens of cheering supporters at a Portland Community College campus in Beaverton, a Portland suburb.
Avakian refrained from directly criticizing Wu, but his remarks hinted at a campaign message about leadership and effective representation.
“Some of the challenges that we have been facing as a nation and a state require more than showing up to give what might be a good vote for the progressives,” Avakian said, adding that the district needs “proactive progressive leadership.”
The reports about Wu’s behavior haven’t appeared to dent his re-election fundraising. Last week, he reported first-quarter contributions totaling $228,000 — his strongest first-quarter showing for a non-election year since 2003. Still, the seventh-term incumbent enters the race without the deep reserves that have helped propel him to victory in the past.
“I take every opponent seriously, but right now, my only focus is on serving my constituents by fighting for Oregon’s innovation economy, getting our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and protecting Medicare for Oregon seniors,” Wu said.
In his past elections, Wu has tapped into the Chinese American community for support and donations. But one group that has supported him in the past is defecting to Avakian.
Stephen Ying, executive director and former president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, told The Associated Press that his support for Avakian has nothing to do with the questions about Wu’s behavior or health. Ying said he respects Avakian from working with him in the past on civil rights issues.
“He was Chinese; we thought when he went to Congress, he could help us on the civil rights issues,” Ying said of Wu. “But we haven’t seen that in the past.”
Wu spokesman Erik Dorey said the congressman has been “one of the leading voices on human rights and civil liberties for more than a decade,” as an opponent of the Patriot Act, a supporter of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and a proponent of Internet freedom.
Avakian is a former Democratic legislator. In 2008, he was appointed labor commissioner and then was elected to a full term. ♦