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Walden served his rural district well

Rep. Greg Walden is ending his long career in elective office on his own terms, and even his critics will acknowledge that he’s earned the opportunity to relax. The veteran 2nd District congressman, who will turn 64 next month, started his political career in 1989, representing Hood River in the Oregon House and then the state Senate before being elected to Congress in 1998. Since then, voters have reelected him by large margins every two years in the state’s most Republican district.

The district is by far the state’s largest, stretching from Washington to California east of the Cascades plus Jackson County and the Grants Pass area of Josephine County. Those boundaries are likely to change if Oregon gains a sixth congressional district after the 2020 Census.

Walden leaves office with a sizable list of accomplishments. A couple of the more significant ones directly benefited the Rogue Valley.

Walden was instrumental in preventing the closure of the Veterans Affairs Department’s Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics, formerly the VA Domiciliary. The White City facility provides resident rehabilitation and outpatient medical services to veterans throughout Southern Oregon and into northern California.

Another federal decision that threatened this area was the planned relocation of the firefighting air tanker base from Medford to Klamath Falls. The move would have lengthened response times to wildfires from here to the coast, and Walden worked to overturn the decision and keep the base here, along with securing increased funding.

Walden rose through the Republican ranks in the House, elected by his colleagues to head the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2012, the fifth-ranking leadership position. He served as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee until Democrats took control of the House in 2018.

To his credit, Walden announced in 2019 that he would not seek reelection, allowing plenty of time for interested successors to campaign for the seat the following year. Voters selected Cliff Bentz of Ontario, who served 10 years in the Oregon House and two years in the state Senate. Bentz is an attorney specializing in water law, and Walden says he hopes that background will help to finally pass legislation to solve the long-running dispute over irrigation and water rights in the Klamath Basin.

Bentz is 69, so he won’t be putting in the 22 years Walden did. Beyond that, the district will probably look different by the time Bentz is up for reelection in 2022.

Walden wasn’t a high-profile lawmaker, but he did a good job of representing his largely rural, conservative district. We wish him well in retirement.

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