US House of Representatives
In 1974, AuCoin ran for the United States House of Representatives in Oregon’s 1st district. President Nixon’s Watergate scandal caused a backlash against the Republican Party, and 49 new Democrats were elected to the House that year. AuCoin, the first Democrat ever elected in Oregon’s 1st district and the youngest congressman ever elected in the state, was one of these new representatives, sometimes called “Watergate babies”. AuCoin was reelected eight more times, serving in the House from 1975 to 1993.
As a new member of the House of Representatives, AuCoin served on the House Banking Committee and the Subcommittee on International Institutions. AuCoin was a leader in the effort to normalize trade relations between the US and the People’s Republic of China. When the two countries normalized relations in January 1979, AuCoin led the first trade delegation to China just one month later, traveling with a group of Oregon business leaders.
In 1981, AuCoin joined the House Appropriations Committee. While working on the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, AuCoin worked on bills related to tribal sovereignty and reservations for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. AuCoin also championed both local and national environmental protections, including the Oregon Wilderness Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
From his position on the Defense Subcommittee, AuCoin worked to limit US spending on nuclear weapons, encouraging investment in conventional weapons instead. He traveled with House Speaker Jim Wright's 1987 congressional visit to the Soviet Union, where he advocated for bilateral arms control. In the 1980s, AuCoin was also a vocal critic of US involvement with Contras in Nicaragua, even traveling to Central America to investigate human rights abuses.
AuCoin was a member of the US House of Representatives for eighteen years, serving during the presidencies of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. Throughout his eighteen years in office, AuCoin was a vocal advocate for civil rights, environmental issues, and nuclear arms control. When he left the House in 1993, AuCoin was 84th in House seniority, dean of the Oregon House delegation, and a majority whip-at-large.