Why This Black Woman Running For Congress In Oregon Could Be A Gamechanger


Photo: Alycia Sanders

Oregon state Rep. Janelle Bynum is an experienced engineer, small business owner, wife, mom of four, and the only Black woman in the Oregon House of Representatives. 

As a state lawmaker, Bynum has shown significant policy expertise and represented House District 39 (formerly HD 51) for four terms over the past six years.

Bynum recently announced her run for the Democratic nomination in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District next year. Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer currently holds the seat. If elected, Bynum would be the first Black person to represent Oregon in Congress.

“As a minority in many rooms, I’m used to having to listen to multiple points of view, and I’m used to having to build consensus. And, Oregon would get someone that is a problem solver, someone who shakes up the status quo,” she tells ESSENCE. 

“I know I’m tucked away in a corner of the country that hardly anybody thinks about, but we are doing big things here…I bridge the gap between opportunity and talent,” she adds.

The fifth district is said to be a top priority for Democrats and represents a critical opportunity for the party to flip the U.S. House blue and regain control. Republicans currently hold a 222-212 advantage in Congress with one seat vacant. It said Bynum is uniquely positioned to defeat Chavez-Deremer, having twice defeated her in the race for her legislative seat in 2016 and 2018.

“I have always tried to focus on kitchen table types of issues. So really, it’s jobs, the economy, safe and livable communities,” she tells ESSENCE. 

Bynum highlighted the recent bipartisan efforts she has led on job creation in the semiconductor industry, affordable housing development, and public safety in this legislature. She added that her desire for more and better jobs and housing for the next generation and improved health care options, including mental health services and reproductive rights, spurred her desire to run for Congress. 

As a federal government shutdown over access to abortion looms, Rep. Bynum said that issues of reproductive health and maternal mortality are critical but are not being covered at the level they should, particularly for Black women.

“Black women we’ve endured trauma with respect to childbirth, whether it was forced childbirth, whether it has been the issue that we see of maternal mortality. And now we’re seeing challenges to our ability to choose our full range of reproductive options, and I think that that is such an important issue for women,” she says.

“We are dying, and that needs to be elevated in Congress. We need more health providers that hear us when we say we have a problem. I’ve had four children; I know what it’s like to be ignored. I don’t think we are covering reproductive health and maternal mortality at the level that we should. We should be screaming from the rafters that our women and babies are dying, and it’s not okay,” Bynum added. 

 When she announced her plans to run for Congress, The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) referred to Bynum as an “extreme liberal” who has made every crisis Oregon faces “worse.” When asked how she would respond to that, Bynum told ESSENCE: “I have been extremely successful, and I’ve beaten their candidate twice, and I’ve been elected four times, so I would say that there’s a disconnect between their reality and what Oregonians have put on the table and said it was important to them,” Bynum says.

“I’m respected as a leader in this state, so I pay attention to what voters want and deliver what voters want. I put politics aside, culture wars aside, and I do the work.”


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