In today’s pop culture-dominated climate, politicians rarely receive much thanks, but the work of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden stands out as a classic example of what an elected leader should do once he or she reaches Congress.
Walden, as many already know, closed the door on his long political career this month. His successor, Ontario attorney Cliff Bentz, will step into Walden’s position with big shoes to fill.
Walden did not always get it right, but his best efforts far overshadowed any miscues. While in office, Walden was a champion of property rights, water rights, farmers and ranches and those who serve our nation.
His long political record — which began as a state lawmaker — paid off often in Congress, which means those he served in the sprawling 2nd Congressional District reaped the benefits.
Occasionally — or frequently, depending from the individual perspective — our federal politicians fail and forget they represent the people. They ignore the will of those who elected them. By and large, that was never a trap that Walden fell into.
Walden made it a priority to visit his district as much as possible. He held town hall meetings in out-of-the-way places across rural Eastern Oregon, but, maybe most importantly, he listened. That may not seem like a great attribute, but it is. Walden listened to the voters. He paid attention. He delved deep into local problems and sought answers. That type of commitment from a politician is refreshing, and Walden did it year after year.
Oregon is going to miss Walden on several levels, especially regarding his seniority and the know-how he collected over years as a congressman. With Walden departed, he takes with him all the key relationships he had with other lawmakers that helps get things done. The various coalitions he made with other politicians that are often critical for a bill to pass will also be gone. That won’t help Oregon in the short term.
However, Bentz, while not a Walden protégé, is very much like the Hood River politician in his outlook and his concern for rural values. On water issues especially, Bentz is well versed. That will pay off for Oregon down the road.
Meanwhile, the state will watch one of its longest-serving federal lawmakers exit the stage. He can depart with the knowledge that, for the most part, he consistently served the voters of his district and made sure their priorities were his priorities.