U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Capitol Building, East side, Washington D.C.

The season ‘tis upon us.

It seems to be here too soon. We’re not talking about the fact that Enterprise has already decked the halls with wreaths and lights, or that we are bombarded with seasonal music when we visit Safeway. Well, we are, but there’s another arrival as well: Eastern Oregon’s political candidates. The primary is not until well after calving season, and just at the nexus of branding and turnout. It seems distant and almost unfathomablyy out of reach. Still, politics begins at home and we might as well peruse what’s on the menu at this point. It might get our minds off other things.

Northeast Oregon’s seasoned, tried and true representatives in Congress and in the Oregon Legislature seem to be stepping aside from their posts. Perhaps it’s good to get fresh blood and new ideas, but it also somehow feels a little like abandonment. First Greg Walden became the 17th House Republican to not seek reelection in 2020. Then our representative in the Oregon House, Greg Barreto, stepped aside. No-one has expressed much interest Barreto’s seat. But four have filed for Walden’s.

Greg Walden has served since 1998, and in the current political climate, seems like a well-tempered moderate. He understands his district and for whatever you think of his political tenor, generally has upheld the needs of the conservative majority of his constituents pretty well. Walden’s seniority provided him – and us--with a responsible voice, serving as the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Communication and Technology, and Subcommittee on Energy and Power. That seniority and experience will vanish with the congressional newcomer who replaces him.

As of Nov.19, there are four announced candidates to replace Walden. On the Democratic side there’s John Holm of Medford, who seems to mostly have spent his career as a political strategist in Minnesota, as well as running comic book stores and regular bookstores, and Raz Mason of Klamath Falls, who ran for the same seat in 2018, finishing 6th of 7 Democratic candidates in the primary. Mason holds a masters degree from Harvard, is a Navy veteran, and has worked as a long-haul truck driver. Democrats seem to have a long haul at this point to find a credible, competitive candidate. On the Republican side there’s the somewhat familiar face of Cliff Bentz, and the less-familiar countenance of politically ambitious Jason Atkinson of Ashland. Atkinson, who has worked as the director of a ski school and a radio talk show host, entered the political arena in 1998, wining a seat in the Oregon House for District 51 (Jackson and Josephine Counties), and then successfully ran for the Oregon Senate from the same area. He ran for governor in 2006, and then was elected to the Oregon Senate from southern Oregon’s District 2 in 2008. He declined to run for another term in 2012. Atkinson has two claims to fame. First, in 2008 while repairing a friend’s bicycle, he took a small bag off the bike and casually dropped it on the floor. That prompted the 0.38 cal Derringer that was in the bag to fire, sending Atkinson to the hospital in serious condition. Secondly, he championed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), which was supported by local communities, governments, tribal groups, environmentalists, and fishermen, although viewed with suspicion by the Klamath tribe. The successor, the Klamath Hydropower Settlement will spark the removal of four dams on the Klamath River next year. The other announced Republican candidate, Cliff Bentz, is far more familiar to many of us in background and reputation. He grew up on ranches in Drewsy and Fields. He holds a law degree from Lewis and Clark, with specialty in water rights, property rights and agricultural law. He served in the Oregon House representing District 60 beginning in 2008, until appointed to the Oregon Senate in 2010. Famously, or perhaps infamously, Bentz was one of the 11 Republican senators who vanished rather than provide a quorum for passage of Bill 2020, the infamous carbon cap and trade bill.

Will there be more U.S House District 2 candidates? On the Republican side, Knute Buehler, Mike McLane, and Bend’s Tim Knopp have been bandied about as potential candidates.. Democrats are more stoic, with Jamie McCleod Skinner, who came closer--though not very close — than any previous Democrat to defeating Walden in 2018, aiming for a run at Oregon’s Secretary of State job. The filing deadline for Walden’s seat is March 10. It’s still only November. Stay tuned.

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