Local leaders react to Walden retiring
For the first time in in two decades, Greg Walden's name will not appear on the ballot for Representative of Oregon's Second Congressional District.
The longtime congressman announced Monday that he would step away from public office when his term concludes at the end of 2020. It will close the book on 21 years in Congress representing Crook County and much of eastern Oregon as well as a political career that launched in the late 1980s in Salem.
Walden was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1988 and served in the House until 1995, when he was appointed to the Oregon State Senate to fill a vacancy that opened when Wes Cooley was elected to the U. S. House. Walden held the Senate seat until January 1997.
Walden ran for his current congressional seat for the first time in 1998, winning with a wide majority, and has held the position ever since.
"Based on recent polling, strong fundraising, and the backing of my wife and family, I am confident I could earn the support of Second District voters for another term. I'm also optimistic that a path exists for Republicans to recapture a majority in the House, and that I could return for two more years as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee," he said in a statement. "But I also know that for me, the time has come to pursue new challenges and opportunities. So, I will not seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives, nor election to any other office, but instead I will close the public service chapter of my life, thankful for the friends I've made and the successful work we've done together."
The announcement sparked several responses throughout the day. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer released a statement calling Walden "a class act and political juggernaut who will be sorely missed in Washington."
"I spoke to Greg and he assured me that he will remain heavily engaged in ensuring this seat remains in Republican hands," Emmer added. "I consider it an honor to follow in Greg's footsteps as NRCC Chairman and will continue leaning on him for his support and guidance as we fight to take back the Majority in 2020. This is a solidly Republican district and it will remain so in 2020."
Crook County Republican Central Committee Chair Mike Ervin said he is sorry to see Walden go because "he has done a lot of really good work for us."
"I think it will be a real loss for Oregonians. Greg is a really honest, hard-working guy."
Vikki Breese-Iverson, Oregon Representative for House District 55 said she is saddened to see Walden retire, but she stressed that 30 years in public service is something that should be honored.
"Congressman Walden has done an excellent job of representing our state and always making sure he connects back to his voters," she said. "His contributions to our country and hard work for issues specific to our traditional way of life are an amazing foundation for us to keep building on. I, and my family, have enjoyed many years of friendship and collaboration with Congressman Walden during his years of public service."
Crook County Judge Seth Crawford praised the work Walden did for the large, rural congressional district, say he has "tirelessly represented and looked out for the people of eastern and southern Oregon."
Crawford went on to say that Walden protected the citizens of Oregon from federal overreach and bring brought common sense to the conversation.
Prineville Mayor Steve Uffelman offered similar sentiments, calling Walden a great asset for Central Oregon, and noting that his retirement from office will be a big loss.
"He was a huge help to us in a myriad of different settings and situation," Uffelman added. "We will miss him greatly and I hope that someone of equal caliber will be willing to step up to the plate."
Others issuing statements included Oregon Right to Life and the Oregon Farm Bureau.
"Rep. Greg Walden has a strong pro-life voting record, for which we are thankful," said Lois Anderson, ORTL executive director. "He was endorsed in 2018 by the National Right to Life Committee."
The ORTL statement went on to point out that in 2017, Walden voted in favor of H.R. 36, "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" and H.R. 4712, "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act," in 2018.
"Congressional District 2 is strongly pro-life," Anderson said. "ORTL PAC will do everything in our power to ensure their new representative in Congress is also pro-life."
Oregon Farm Bureau stressed that Walden has been a "stalwart champion for Oregon agriculture.
"For us, Congressman Walden will be forever synonymous with Congressional District 2," the Farm Bureau statement read. "We applaud and thank Greg for his tireless years in public service and wish him the very best in his next chapter."
Walden's decision had been rumored in recent days, but it is likely to come as a surprise to many in Oregon's Republican establishment, some of whom expressed doubts last week when asked about the move. The decision also marks a turnaround for a successful politician who earlier this year said he was focused on winning re-election and helping Republicans reclaim a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It's also almost certain to set off a dogfight among Republicans over who might replace Walden in the state's only reliably Republican district, and it will likely have Democrats viewing the seat with fresh interest.
Bend doctor and recent Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler might very well throw his hat in the ring, based on a tweet he posted Tuesday morning.
"Oregon is better for the leadership of @repgregwalden. Greg is a champion for small business and values of limited, effective government," the tweet reads. "Rural OR will miss his powerful and thoughtful voice. I am considering seeking the GOP nomination and how best to serve the people of CD2."
State Sen. Cliff Bentz has likewise announced his intentions to succeed Walden following the announcement of his retirement.
Ervin said the Crook County Republican Central Committee will not change its approach in the wake of Walden's upcoming departure, but rather find a candidate to support that shares the same conservative values that Walden does. These include support of the U.S. Constitution and Second Amendment as well as a commitment to tax cuts, job growth and a strong economy.
Dirk VanderHart with Oregon Public Broadcasting, a news partner of Pamplin Media Group, contributed to this report.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.