Greg Walden’s decision to retire from Congress leaves a gaping hole in Oregon and national politics.
An obvious reason is the district he represents is one of the nation’s largest in geographical size. More important, Walden is the only Republican among five representatives and two senators in Oregon’s congressional delegation, making him the voice for Republicans in Lane County and elsewhere, along with being the representative for his 2nd Congressional District constituents.
With Democrats now controlling the U.S. House of Representatives, being in the minority is not a lot of fun. As the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Walden is the fifth Republican in a top committee position not to seek re-election in 2020. Yet earlier this year, he had told Politico he was “a chairman in exile,” waiting to reclaim that role when the Republicans retook that House.
His upcoming departure seems a reflection of the toxicity that pervades our national politics. Americans are divided not only about politicians and policies but also about the basics of how a democracy should operate. That division is reflected in the House’s near party-line vote last week to formally start impeachment proceedings on President Donald Trump. Walden and all his Republican colleagues, along with two Democrats, voted no.
When he leaves office next January, Walden will be known not for profound legislation but for adeptly maneuvering the fields of partisanship. A top Republican leader, he chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee when it increased the number of House Republicans. He strived mightily to repeal Obamacare — the Affordable Care Act — which didn’t happen. He was a reliable Republican vote on most issues but carefully stood up to Trump on others.
Oregon Democrats salivated as word spread of Walden’s decision to step down. But the 2nd Congressional District, a district that encompasses about two-thirds of Oregon’s land mass, remains reliably Republican. Walden faced his toughest re-election challenge last year in Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, but he still defeated her by 17 percentage points.
Oregon has become too much of a one-party state. For decades, it was Republican control, then mixed and now Democratic. Our state is best served through a multitude of political voices and views, not a de facto one-party system that fails to reflect the diverse politics of Oregonians.
Walden paid his political dues as he gained an understanding of that diversity. Born in The Dalles, he worked for Congressman Denny Smith before being elected to the Oregon House from Hood River, the state Senate and then to Congress in 1998.
He is a staunch advocate for agriculture, timber and other natural resource-dependent industries, frustrating environmentalists. He worked with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on such issues as protecting timber payments to Oregon counties.
Walden is a political and social conservative. What Oregonians think of Walden depends on their political and social views. But he stands up for what he believes in, and all Oregonians should respect that.