Since 1999, a lot has changed in Oregon: The Ducks became a football powerhouse, thousands of Californians ignored Governor McCall's admonition and decided to visit and stay, and tech took over timber's prominence in much of the state's economy.
For all the good and bad in the last two decades, a few things have remained unchanged ... including Greg Walden's position as Eastern Oregon's representative to the House. This sort of political continuity carries its own positives and negatives. A review of those traits provides Eastern Oregonians with a rubric to judge the numerous candidates already gunning for the role.
Is this a launch pad?
Aside from a couple of rumors that Walden would run for governor in 2010, Congressman Walden has channeled his political ambition within the confines of his present office. As a result, Walden has scaled the political ladder within the Republican Party. His ascension has been a boon to Oregon. Consider that he will retire as the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a body with broad authority over legislative issues that directly impact communities like Baker City and Boardman. Walden wouldn't have earned that chairmanship without some excellent political gamesmanship, such as focusing on his role in D.C. rather than on his next move in Oregon. Whoever wins in 2020 should do so because they intend to stay, rather than to set themselves up for something "bigger."
How do they fit the district?
Walden wasn't new to Eastern Oregon politics when he decided to run for Congress. His deep roots in Oregon testified to his familiarity with the deep issues affecting rural Oregonians. Though Walden wasn't universally beloved in his district, few would challenge his thorough understanding of the issues in their part of Oregon. He gleaned this knowledge through meaningful experience as a state legislator, not merely by shaking hands and whatever the 1999 equivalent was of taking selfies. A few of the candidates considering running appear to lack Walden's willingness to work with every community in his district from Hood River to Hermiston; they instead seem to have a partisan agenda that isn't of the people but rather for their party. Voters should snuff those candidates out.
Will they stand for Oregon values?
Even before Walden headed to Washington, he displayed streaks of principled politicking shown by the likes of Senator Wayne Morse. Consider that Walden, channeling Morse, once announced that he'd run for office as an independent. Though he later won the seat as a Republican, he has continued to find ways to align with the center. Case in point, he has been a member of the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership and identified ways to contribute to bipartisan efforts, such as through the Small Brewers Caucus. And, at times, he has even stood up to President Trump's backwards thinking on the climate, immigration and trade, central issues to Eastern Oregon. The next representative must go further than Walden in remaining true to what it means to be an Oregonian. Hate has no home here. Our representatives must carry those values across the country.
I took issue with a great number of Walden's policy positions, but never questioned his commitment to fighting for what he thought was best for Eastern Oregon. Let's hope the next representative, Republican or Democrat, places the people of Eastern Oregon ahead of partisan priorities.