The opportunity in Mr. Walden’s changing ways

Read Disclaimer.

Seemingly an eternity ago (January 2018, Hood River News, Another Voice: “Open letter to Walden: Seek common ground”), I challenged Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR2) to stand for civility against an unfit US president. Were he to do that, I said then, he would earn my respect, even if not my vote.

He went on to win re-election to Congress, without my respect or vote. But the Republican Party lost the majority in the House, considerably weakening Mr. Walden’s congressional clout.

I then challenged Mr. Walden (December 2018, Hood River News, Letter to the Editor: “Suggestions for Walden”) to use his weakened position to lead a revival of bipartisanship, with possible focus on three issues (climate change, health care and immigration reform). I further challenged him (December 2018, Hood River News, Letter to the Editor: “Stand on Principle”) to take a principled stand against the partial government shutdown.

More importantly, many other OR2 constituents have, each in their own way, challenged Mr. Walden in these and other issues. Perhaps loudest of all, voters signaled their discontent by reducing his margin of electoral victory in 2018, relative to historical numbers. He even lost in Hood River and Deschutes. The collective message, modest as it might have sounded given his re-election, seems to have been heard.

Mr. Walden sided with Democrats to vote for unsuccessful bills aiming at preventing the partial government shutdown, and for the bill that actually re-opened the government. He did so while calling for a bipartisan spirit in Congress. Also, he wrote an editorial (February 2019, Bend Bulletin, Guest Column: “A path forward on climate change”) stating unambiguously that climate change is real.

Through each of these actions, Mr. Walden challenged the US president and the status quo of the Republican Party. Modest and time-untested as they were, these challenges took political courage. Mr. Walden has also embarked on a series of open meetings with his constituents across the District—among other forms of reversing his pre-election avoidance of exposure to dissenting voices.

I continue to disagree with Mr. Walden on fundamental issues. But I appreciate that he seems to be actually listening to his constituents, across different views and perspectives.

I will cautiously accept that it is a return to principle, rather than political expediency, that drives Mr. Walden’s recent positions and votes. Naiveté? Perhaps, but there are reasons for giving him the benefit of the doubt.

First, Mr. Walden is a seasoned politician and represents a (still) solidly Republican District. Short of a White House political meltdown, Mr. Walden risks more votes than he is likely to gain by challenging the president and the Republican status quo. He might even encourage a viable primary challenge. It would thus seem politically more expedient for him to stay his pre-election course.

More importantly, not giving Mr. Walden the benefit of the doubt might be a missed opportunity. We have strong communities across our District. Communities where hard work is the norm, family is important, neighbor helps neighbor, and kindness is paid forward. But the angry political divide that engulfs the country has reached us, and is a threat to our strength and wellbeing as local communities. We need unifiers, not continued division.

Mr. Walden was once a moderate voice in Congress, a Republican respected and even supported by many Democrats and independents in his district. We should give him the opportunity to re-occupy that unifying space, while we keep a pro-active “trust-and-verify” attitude.

The 2020 elections are the right time and mechanism to make a full assessment of Mr. Walden’s (and our collective) progress, and act accordingly. Until then, a productive course of action might be a dialogue, where as individual voters (across the political spectrum) we continue to share with Mr. Walden our views on issues that matter to district and country. In so doing, we will be holding him accountable to represent our shared values, and to catalyze a renewed sense of respect for our differences.


  1. My thought is that political expediency continues to be Mr. Walden’s guiding light. There is no doubt in my mind that his recent votes would have been different had he and his cohorts retained power following the latest election.


  2. Many share your views, Diane. And I too suspect that, if not for the results of the last election, Mr. Walden’s recent votes would have been different. Also, he voted against HR1, along strict party lines—foregoing a chance for bold challenge to party and president. Both are reasons to be cautious in heralding changes. Still, it is worth encouraging progress towards bipartisanship, timid as it has been.


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