Rep. Greg Walden (R)
Oregon 2nd District
The Cascade Mountains that wall off eastern Oregon from the rest of the state are a magnificent chain of once (and quite possibly still) active volcanic mountains that drain almost every drop of moisture out of the air blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. They separate green, wet, western Oregon from brown, parched, eastern Oregon. The eastern part has 70% of the state’s land, but only 477,000 of its 3.7 million people, most of whom still make their living off the land: beef and dairy cattle, timber and lumber, fish from the Columbia River, and wheat and sugar beets from the irrigated plains. The effect of the Cascades can be felt in the one place they are breached—by the Columbia River Gorge. There, surrounded by brown hills on both sides, funneled winds pound in steadily from the west, making the confluence of the Columbia and Hood rivers the best windsurfing site in the United States. The world’s largest wind farm opened here in 2002, featuring 400 windmills capable of generating electricity for 60,000 homes.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Oregon covers all of the state east of the Cascades and the southernmost valley between the Cascades and the Coast Range. Much of this land is forested and unpopulated: Harney County, with a land area larger than that of nine states, has just 7,000 residents. Population centers are miles apart. Pendleton is a genuine rodeo town amid the northeastern wheat fields. In the town of The Dalles, where the Columbia River Gorge begins, housing prices spiked after Internet giant Google purchased 30 acres of riverfront land for a 100-employee data center to be powered by cheap hydroelectricity. In the town of Bend, in the fastest-growing part of eastern Oregon, sawmills have closed but the wilderness and high desert plateau attract lots of outdoor activity, tourism and telecommuters. In the mid-2000s, “trophy ranches” were catching on and driving up land prices in Wallowa County as wealthy exurbanites bought up huge parcels for vacation retreats and retirement dream homes. Crook County has also seen an invasion of real estate developers.
Until it voted for George H.W. Bush for president over Bill Clinton in 1992, Crook County was a bellwether, the only county in the country to have voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election in the 20th century. Like the district as a whole, it has become more Republican, voting 68% for George W. Bush in 2004 and 61.5% for John McCain in 2008. In the district’s southwestern corner, lying west of the Cascades, is the 1,932-foot-deep Crater Lake, the deepest in the nation, created when the top blew off a huge volcano. The local economy is dominated by lumber and pear orchards around Klamath Falls, Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass.
Politically, the 2nd District has grown very suspicious of the federal government and very Republican. The cultural liberalism of Portland isn’t welcome here. This is part of the leave-us-alone Rocky Mountain Basin, not the hipster West Coast. The federal government owns three-quarters of the district’s land, with much of it fenced off from local use by various government decrees. Court decisions protecting the spotted owl eviscerated the logging industry here, and the cutoff of water in 2001 from the Klamath Basin to protect the endangered suckerfish threatened to destroy the livelihoods of 1,400 local farmers. The flow of water was restored, but logging remains endangered, with a lasting impact locally. In 2007, rural Jackson County was forced to shut down all of its 15 libraries after Congress ended “safety net” payments to communities hard hit by efforts to protect endangered species. The county has just one large sawmill left, compared with 91 in its heyday.
Rep. Greg Walden (R)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Jan. 10, 1957, The Dalles .
Home: Hood River.
Education: U. of OR, B.S. 1981.
Family: Married (Mylene); 1 child.
Elected office: OR House of Reps., 1988-94, Majority ldr., 1991-93; OR Senate, 1994-96.
Professional Career: Press secy., U.S. Rep. Denny Smith, 1981-84, Chief of staff, 1984-86; Owner, Columbia Gorge Broadcasters Inc., 1986-2008.
The representative from the 2nd District is Greg Walden, a Republican elected in 1998. He grew up on an 80-acre cherry orchard near The Dalles in the Columbia Gorge; his father ran radio stations that had been in the family since the 1930s and also served in the state House. Walden followed his father into both pursuits. As a young man, he was a disc jockey and talk show host. Then, he got involved in politics as the press secretary and chief of staff for Republican Rep. Denny Smith from 1981 to 1987. Walden returned to Hood River to run the family’s five-station broadcast business, Columbia Gorge Broadcasters. In 1988, he was elected to the state House, eventually becoming majority leader. He is conservative on economics but more moderate on cultural issues; he supports abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, but opposes federal funding of abortions.
|Greg Walden (R)||236,560||(70%)||($1,646,853)|
|Noah Lemas (D)||87,649||(26%)|
|Tristin Mock (Green)||9,668||(3%)|
|Greg Walden (R)||83,087||(99%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (67%), 2004 (72%), 2002 (72%), 2000 (74%), 1998 (61%)
When the 2nd District seat opened in 1998 with the retirement of GOP Rep. Bob Smith, Walden ran and faced substantial primary opposition from Perry Atkinson, a Christian broadcaster who was backed financially by Gary L. Bauer’s Campaign for Working Americans and Americans for Limited Terms. Walden stayed competitive by raising $500,000 and prevailed over Atkinson with 55% of the vote. In the anticlimactic general election against a conservative Democrat, Walden won 61%-35%.
In the House, Walden has been an active legislator with a focus on a national issue with strong local implications—forest management. He played a central role in 2003 in assembling bipartisan support for the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which was a legislative response to wildfires raging across the West from unlogged dry timber. He also successfully sought to reopen the flow of water to farmers in the Klamath Basin. Later, he pushed for legislation to expedite logging after natural disasters. In July 2006, the House passed his bill to expand the Mount Hood wilderness area, but the Senate did not act. Walden has worked to curb regulations under the Endangered Species Act by encouraging a greater role for outside scientists to review government proposals. In recent years, he also has tried to restore timber payments to rural counties, joining forces with home-state Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat.
In 2007, Walden was a leader of a coalition to stop efforts to restore the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting, which forced broadcasters to offer views opposing those of their on-air commentators. The rule was abandoned in 1987, and liberals have pushed to revive it to counter the influence of popular conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh. Recalling his own days in broadcasting, Walden told The Oregonian newspaper that it was difficult to figure out who qualified to offer opposing viewpoints when his father read editorials on the air, so the family stopped airing editorials altogether. Political chatter over the broadcast network tends to be conservative, he said, but that should not matter. “Is it more conservative than liberal? Yeah,” Walden told the newspaper. “Are there a lot more country-western stations than polka stations? Yeah. Listeners make these determinations. The marketplace decides.” Also in 2007, Walden was appointed by Minority Leader John Boehner to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Walden has been re-elected easily. He has twice declined to run for governor, but may have another opportunity to run in this swing state in 2010. “Greg Walden will be governor of Oregon one day,” former Sen. Gordon Smith told The Oregonian.