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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Meet our next 2nd District U.S. representative

Like me, you probably haven’t liked Rep. Greg Walden’s politics, especially during his last two terms when he has invariably supported Trump. His abandonment of his constituents’ welfare was especially marked by his leadership, as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, of the abortive Republican attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act with a bill that would have severely damaged rural hospitals and deprived a high percentage of people in our district of their new-found access to health coverage. That abandonment was the price Walden was willing to pay for eminence in his party.

But now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, his eminence no longer translates into power. So Walden is stepping down, probably to make big money as a lobbyist in D.C. Is that cause for rejoicing? Probably not. Cliff Bentz, who secured the Republican nomination for the open seat, will win it. The 2nd District is simply unflippable as long as its boundaries remain as they are.

I doubt that Bentz has appeared on our radars before now. He couldn’t live any farther east than he does and still live in Oregon. Yet, because he was a state representative from 2008 through 2017 and the following year became a state senator, his politics can be inferred not only from the policy positions he enunciated during the recent Republican primary, but also from his record in Salem.

That’s helpful, because all the primary candidates necessarily proclaimed themselves staunch Trump supporters. On every campaign issue, Bentz echoed Trump: opposition to reproductive freedom, a health-care system run on “free market principles,” draconian anti-immigration efforts, and the gutting of the protections in the National Environmental Policy Act. Unlike Knute Buhler, however, who tried to get voters to overlook his moderate stands as state senator and gubernatorial candidate, Bentz was sincere. When any of those issues came before the state Legislature while he served there, he voted like a right-wing Republican.

Bentz’s position on abortion isn’t nuanced. He believes that human life begins at conception and from then on merits legal protection except when the mother’s life is at risk. Last year, Oregon Right to Life gave him its Atterberry Award for championing its cause. Regarding public health care, in 2019 he was one of only eight senators to vote against keeping the Oregon Health Plan solvent by raising the cigarette tax.

Most predictive of how he’ll function in Congress was Bentz’s walkout with the 11 other Republican senators from the 2019 session in Salem. They walked out twice. The first time was forgivable, even admirable if you share their views. But when the Democratic leadership agreed not to bring up bills on gun regulation and mandatory vaccination of public school children in return for no more walkouts, Bentz and his fellows agreed. Then, they walked out again anyway to prevent passage of the cap-and-trade bill that would have curbed greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. That second walkout was a breach of trust. Legislatures can’t function well if their members don’t honor the deals they make.

My point here is that when Bentz gets to Washington, it’s likely that he’ll be almost useless, which won’t be good for the 2nd District. He’ll be a freshman member of a party out of power, but that alone wouldn’t preclude him from serving his constituents; in some ways Walden served us well. But if you carry a reputation for reneging on your promises to your colleagues, you forfeit the little leverage you might otherwise have.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.