The Pacific Northwest's new power in the U.S. House of Representatives may not be Doc Hastings or Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington but a low-key Republican from Eastern Oregon, Rep. Greg Walden.
Walden, 53 and a six-term member from a safe district, is heading the transition for incoming Speaker John Boehner, and has been assigned to head a committee to draw up new rules and procedures for the new Congress.
A profile Monday (Nov. 15) in the Washington Post called him the "get-it-done guy" for Boehner. Beyond Oregon, Walden is hardly a household name, but he and his father before him, running from a base of owning radio stations in the Columbia Gorge, have been prominent figures in Republican politics since the 1970s when Paul Walden was a member of the Oregon House from Hood River. Greg
Walden learned his politics at the family dinner table and on the campaign trail; I met him as he was finishing the University of Oregon in 1981 and moving into a staff job with Rep. Denny Smith, who had just upset long-time Rep. Al Ullman, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in the Reagan tide of 1980.
Oregon's most eastern district has been in Republican hands since Walden worked for Smith until 1987, then entered elective office, serving in the Oregon Legislature until 1998. Walden always seemed more centrist than his association with the dogmatic Denny Smith or the veteran congressman he succeeded in 1998, Rep. Bob Smith (no relation to Denny).
He worked well with media, and carried the same image of honesty and openness that characterized his father. He is often talked about as a candidate for Oregon governor, and might have done better this year than the ultimate GOP candidate, Chris Dudley.
Eastern Oregon's Second District takes in all of the state east of the Cascades and a chunk of Southern Oregon as well. Growth has been greatest in two relatively liberal wings of the district, Hood River on the Columbia and Ashland in Southern Oregon. But Walden continues to rack up votes of around 70 percent every two years (73 percent this year).
Walden is a reliable Republican vote. The web site GovTrack also describes Walden as "a follower according to our statistical analysis of bills in this legislative session. Walden tends to cosponsor the bills of other Members of Congress who do not cosponsor Walden's own bills." Walden's name is not headlined on any noted pieces of legislation.
While he's a reliable conservative vote, he is also cognizant of Oregon's environmental leanings. He joined Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, to carve out a land swap to expand wilderness near Mt. Hood, and in the nation's capital he drives a Prius. It is an interesting partnership, for Blumenauer and Wyden are the "idea guys" of the Oregon delegation, regularly attracting national attention for innovative proposals.
But they are also capable of crossing the partisan bridge, as is Walden.
At 53, Walden's forehead is quite a bit higher than the skinny college kid I recall passing out campaign literature for Congressman Denny Smith, but he's still long and lanky and someone whose word I would trust. He's a far better congressman than his early mentor, more like his dad might have been if he had gone that route. We'll see where it takes him in a difficult job that could lead to more in the future.