I’m doing something a little different this week. Congressman Greg Walden announced this week that he won’t run for re-election and will retire when his term concludes next year. Walden’s announcement is a big deal for me personally, for Bend and the rest of Oregon’s Second Congressional District, and has implications for our national politics too. This week, I’ll focus on that stuff.
The usual BBR format will return in all its glory next week!
I’ll begin with acknowledging that I am biased with regard to the issue of Congressman Greg Walden. I worked for him during most of his first term in the House. Greg was a great boss. He is a highly effective legislator, and he’s been personally very kind to me. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if not for him (so you can blame him). So, yeah, I’m biased.
I don’t think there’s much of a question that Greg Walden has been Oregon’s most effective and influential member of Congress of either party and of House or Senate since the departure of Senators Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood in the mid- to late-90s. He’s had an enormous impact on forest management practices, telecommunications laws, and, frankly, the number of Republican members of the House through the 2018 election. He’s chaired one of the most powerful committees in Congress – House Energy and Commerce, served in leadership, and chaired for two successful election cycles the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps Republicans get elected to the House. All the while, he’s maintained an almost constant presence throughout his massive district and sailed to comfortable re-election to comfortable re-election.
Interestingly, Walden’s service in the House spans two of the four presidential impeachment processes in American history. He ran his first congressional race in 1998 while the Starr Report was the talk of Washington, and took office after the House had voted to impeach and shortly before the Senate voted to acquit President Clinton. Walden’s announcement that he’ll not run for re-election in 2020 comes, of course, during the House’s current impeachment inquiry into President Trump. In spite of the impeachment bookends to his time in the House, Greg has largely eschewed focusing on presidential scandals du jour (of both parties) and instead focused on the areas of federal policy that impact his district as well as national issues related to telecommunications and health care.
In his kind and fair demeanor and in his focus on legislation rather than bombast, Greg is unusual and increasingly so in Congress today. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his work over the past 20-plus years.
So what happens now? I wager more than 100 elected officials and others from Medford to Joseph to Burns to Bend to Hood River – throughout the almost impossibly enormous and diverse Second Congressional District – looked at themselves in the mirror Monday, on hearing the news that Walden wouldn’t run for re-election, and saw a soon-to-be congressperson. In a district that’s been represented without serious electoral challenge for two decades,and that is so geographically large it has numerous local political power centers, there will be no shortage of candidates on either side, but I think especially on the Republican side.
So what should we in OR02 look for in the upcoming campaign? Or, more specifically, what should we hope for? The defining fact of the district’s relationship with the federal government is that the feds own about 55% of the land here. Our federal neighbor creates some really good things – like preserved natural areas for recreation that has fueled economic growth in places like Bend and Hood River – but also some bad things – like forest fires and the attendant smoke and also taking a giant swath of land off the table for non-recreational economic use. Go to places like John Day or Burns and ask if the federal government has been a good neighbor and the few people left in town who don’t work for the federal government would probably say not really. It’s an odd thing being neighbors with someone who makes the laws that govern his own land but also yours.
The fact that we are in close proximity to so much federal land also makes it more important to us than perhaps to others that the federal government be at least reasonably solvent. Living next door to someone who makes the rules for himself and for you and is also undergoing foreclosure is bad news. The property goes untended, and impacts your property too. So, folks in the Second District have a very strong interest – even stronger than many other Americans – in seeing the federal government stop spending a lot more than it takes in.
One of our themes here at BBR is that the federal government can’t often improve our lives by doing more. It’s too distant and big to be effective, even if it wanted to help. The good news is that the federal government is doing so many things poorly that it can make things better by just stopping a lot of those things, and it’s imperative that we do. Our pursuit of happiness-delivered-by-the-
While I wouldn’t wager in this environment on the likelihood that we will see a campaign that focuses on difficult federal issues – both short- and long-term – affecting people who live here, we at least have the recent and effective example of a Congressman who has done that for two decades. What do we have if not hope?
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Have a great weekend!