Congressman stops in Madras for lunch meeting
Rep. Greg Walden, the Hood River Republican who represents the Second Congressional District, which includes Jefferson County, and his wife, Mylene, made an unannounced visit to New Basin Distillery and had lunch with eight local men on Friday, Jan. 17.
Former Mayor Rick Allen helped organize the event. He wanted Walden to see New Basin because Walden was instrumental in working with the Federal Aviation Administration to help the city of Madras sell the land that New Basin now occupies.
Allen credited Walden with the sale, but Walden said it was team effort.
New Basin co-owner Rick Molitor gave Walden a quick tour of the distillery and explained how regulations sometimes make it difficult to run a small business. For instance, for some liquor, American oak barrels are required.
"You'd think they would say, 'Try what you want.
You just gotta label it,'" Walden said. "The oak folks probably got a pretty good lobbyist."
Update from Washington
While folks ate sandwiches, Walden gave an overview of what's happening in Washington, D.C.
Walden touted the new trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
""By most accounts, it's a better deal," he said. "I've never been a big tariff guy, but I will say nobody's stood up to China like the president has."
He said China cheats and steals with regard to intellectual property.
He's also working on "suprise medical billing," he said, and streamlining grazing permits.
He has also worked on stopping robocalls.
"Fifty-eight billion robocalls last year," he said. "Illegal robocalls."
He said one day he got a call from Greece but didn't know who the call was from, so he let it go to voice mail. A couple of days later, he checked his messages and discovered the call was from Vice President Mike Pence, who was calling from Air Force 2.
"Who trusts any of those any more?" he said.
The new law gives Congress more tools, and it directs phone providers to use their technology, he said. "They want to, but they want us to tell them to" because of liability.
Allen asked Walden about a picture of him shaking hands with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He asked how Congress can regulate social media when people say they want regulations but then complain about censorship.
"I've said that from the dais," Walden said. People want want's offensive to them taken down, but people have different ideas about what's offensive.
"Free speech is a good thing in a democracy and government-controlled speech is not," he said.
Allen asked about foreign countries using Facebook to influence U.S. elections.
Walden said the social media companies have "some pretty good tools now to shut that down and stop the fake stuff."
But, Walden said, lawmakers have to be careful about labeling what is "fake." Members of Congress, for example, can revise and extend their remarks after they've spoken on the House floor. "Does it really reflect what happened here?" he asked.
And TV ads that intentionally make opponents look bad are similar. "Well, what are we doing? ... It's a delicate place to be."
But, he said, Congress does need to figure out foreign intervention. And people need to know that what they see and read can be relied on, he said.
Bruce Hoyt, of Madras, said he always wonders if what he is seeing is fake if he isn't sure of the source.
Walden said he was in Silicon Valley and was given a demonstration of virtual reality. He saw a man walking down stairs.
"It did not exist," he said.
At the same time that virtual reality can be used to fool people, it can also be used to teach more about the human body and other things.
"That's the good part of technology," Hoyt said.
Walden agreed, and said the world is more connected than ever.
Technology also has Congress working to protect people's privacy rights.
Because of strict regulations in Europe, Microsoft dedicated 16,000 employees just to comply.
"But when the government overregulates, the big guys, they'll figure out," Walden said. But startups can't even get off the ground.
Because the internet crosses state lines, Walden believes a national standard should cover privacy issues. He feels the same about self-driving vehicles.
Divisions in Congress
"What is it ever going to take for the Democrats and Republicans to go back to working together for the good of the people?" John Scheideman, of Madras, asked.
"When we do get along, it's not a story," Walden said. "The bulk of our work ended up as law."
"The good news that you should take comfort in is that we actually do get along pretty well," he continued. Surprise medical billing is a good example, he said.
"We're shoulder to shoulder ... against pretty powerful interests," he said. "We do need to always try and put the issues of the country first."
Walden is concerned about the sanctuary city movement, he said. Cities have said they are not going to follow federal law, but they want federal money.
On the flip side, Virginia has counties that have declared sanctuary regarding the state's gun laws.
"This is called anarchy, by the way," he said. "If you don't like the law, go win and change the law."
Allen asked about Walden's take on term limits.
Walden said he saw the results of term limits in the Legislature. In their first term, lawmakers were just trying to figure out what to do. In their second term, they needed to take leadership if they were going to, and by the third term, they were finished.
"The embedded bureaucracy was the big winner," he said.
Longevity is also important, he said, citing an example with ranching on Bureau of Land Management land. The BLM was fencing cows out in some areas. Walden challenged staff, and they said, "That's not how we read the law."
He said he wrote the law, so he knew he what his intent was.
"Had I not still been around, nobody else was there" when the law was written, he said.
'A cancer on civility'
Allen asked about division, given that both political parties often want what's good for the next two years rather than the long term.
"Democracy's, as it turns out, kind of messy," Walden said, adding that it's still the best system in the world.
"It is less civil," he said. "Social media has become a cancer on civility."
He said the analysis of data by news organizations has made them tend to produce what people want to hear, and people only listen to the news that confirms their biases.
WGN in Chicago is planning a national news show that aims to be factual and down the middle, Walden said. "Then you can go to Hannity and go to Rachel Maddow and get the spin." He's interested to see how people will respond.
Trump and civil discourse
Scheideman asked about the lack of civil discourse in the country. "How much of do you think (President) Trump is responsible for?"
"I see it across the map," Walden said.
The president is the first to figure out social media, the same way Franklin Roosevelt did with radio and John F. Kennedy did with TV, he said. "The way he uses it draws attention."
At the same time, he laments the way people are using social media, saying some have threatened him.
"It's pretty vicious," he said. "Some of them are bots."
"Has it taken a toll?" Allen asked.
"If you read it, it will," Walden said.
But all in all, Walden is happy with his career.
He was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1988 and was appointed to the Oregon Senate in 1995. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998.
He has spent 30 of the last 32 years in public office.
"That's been a great honor," he said. "You need a strong voice here."
But Walden is trying to stay out of the race for his seat. He has no plans to endorse any of the Republicans in the running.
"Should it stay Republican?" Allen asked.
"It should," Walden said, adding that he never had an opponent get more than 40% of the vote. "But you've got to go earn it."
Molitor said there was a "big gasp all at once" when people heard Walden was retiring.
But those gathered wished him well.
"It's been a great journey," Walden said.
Allen said Walden has served the district well.
"I still like it," he said. "I love problem solving and making things happen."
He can go to every county in the district and see something he has worked on, he said. "There's just lots we've been involved in."
He mentioned forestry, Crooked River Ranch thinning of trees and work on opioid addiction.
Allen asked Mylene if she was ready for Walden's retirement.
"Yes," she said without hesitation. She added that she is proud of the work Walden has done, but it will be nice to have more time together.
Walden said he isn't sure what he'll do after he leaves office in December, but he said he is leaving happy. He may "do something," he said, but "not in public service."
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