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GOP eyes Walden replacement

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, on Monday announced he won’t seek re-election after serving more than 20 years in Congress, opening the door for a number of potential contenders for his seat.

“I’m seriously considering it,” said Jason Atkinson, a Central Point Republican who represented Southern Oregon in the Oregon Senate from 2001 to 2013. “I believe that if I got in that race, I would win it.”

Atkinson, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, said Walden has done a “fantastic” job for Oregon and has worked well with local political leaders on a variety of issues.

“I’ve enjoyed working with him,” Atkinson said.

Walden, 62, has easily won re-election each time since 1998, garnering 60% or more of the vote in Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, which leans heavily Republican and encompasses two-thirds of the land mass of the state, mostly to the east of the Cascades. The 2nd Congressional District, which includes Jackson County and a portion of Josephine County, is the second-largest district in the U.S.

With this announcement, Walden said he was closing the public chapter of his life.

“My team and I have helped thousands of Oregonians get the Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ benefits they earned and deserved,” Walden said in a prepared statement. “I fought to save the firefighting tanker base in Medford, the (Veterans Affairs) facility in White City, and I’ve stood up for the ranching and farming way of life that is Eastern Oregon.”

While Atkinson appears on the verge of running for Walden’s seat and already has assembled a campaign committee, other candidates from Southern Oregon are also considering a run.

Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, said, “Everybody’s name is being thrown out, including mine. I have a funny feeling my kids would be looking for a new parent if I decided to go for it.”

At this moment, Baertschiger said his answer would be “no,” but added it’s too early to say for sure.

He said other names include Jason Conger, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014 and has served in the Oregon House of Representatives. Mike McLane, who stepped down from the Oregon House in 2019 to take an appointment from Gov. Kate Brown for circuit court judge in Crook and Jefferson counties, also has been mentioned, along with state Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend and former state Rep. Knute Buehler.

Baertschiger said Walden represented his district well, referring to him as the “energizer bunny.”

“Anybody in politics is either going to work or they’re not going to work, and Greg worked for Oregonians,” he said.

He said Walden was very supportive of veterans, including making sure they got the care they needed.

“They’re asking people to sign up for that, and the paycheck isn’t that good,” he said. “We owe it to them to get the support they need.”

Baertschiger said he worked well with Walden on issues related to forestry and fires, which are of particular importance to Southern Oregon.

Walden didn’t provide any specific reason why he was stepping down, other than to say he wants to pursue other challenges and opportunities.

“At the end of this term, I will have devoted 30 years to the important calling of public service, of helping bring people together to solve problems and leave our communities, our beautiful state and our great nation better off for the next generation,” Walden stated.

His ancestors arrived in Oregon in 1845, and he grew up on a cherry orchard in The Dalles, his parents having survived the Great Depression.

Walden said that with recent polling, strong fundraising and the backing of his wife and family, he was confident he could win another term in the 2nd District. Walden is former chairman and current leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

During his time in office, Walden said his accomplishments included tackling the opioid crisis, increasing access to high-speed broadband, modernizing the energy sector and moving forward on medical research and innovation.

As deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Walden said he helped Republicans regain control of the U.S. House in 2010 and keep it in 2012.

The House is currently controlled by Democrats, and 17 Republicans previously had announced they wouldn’t be seeking re-election.

Walden and his wife, Mylene, owned and operated radio stations in Hood River and The Dalles for more than two decades. They are the parents of two sons, Anthony, 29, and Garrison, who died of a congenital heart defect in 1994. He served six years in the Oregon House from 1989 to 1995, including as House Majority Leader during the 1991 and 1993 sessions, before serving two years in the Oregon Senate from 1995 to 1997.

Republicans aren’t the only ones eying Walden’s seat.

KC Hanson, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, welcomed the news of Walden’s departure, sending out a prepared statement in which she said Walden increasingly is out of step with voters and didn’t want to risk defeat in 2020. Hanson said Walden put the interests of corporate donors ahead of the needs of Oregonians and voted to take away health care for 23 million Americans, including 300,000 Oregonians.

Republicans, on the other hand, say Walden has done a great job for his district.

“I think he’s represented us fantastically since 1998,” said Kevin Keating, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party. “He would have held that seat for as long as he wanted.”

Keating said Walden has evolved into a powerful member of the House and has worked to ensure Southern Oregon counties receive their share of federal forest dollars and improve access to the internet for rural households.

While Walden received much support from a majority of those in his district, he has been criticized over the years, particularly for showing support for President Trump, Keating said.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t like him, but there are those opposed to his policies on the other side,” he said. “I personally know him, and he was a true gentleman. We will miss him.”

Keating said he expects a few candidates will come forward to run for his seat, but he didn’t want to speculate on who they might be.

“As much as I’d love to have him stay, it’s good to have some new blood in there,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Congressman Greg Walden holds an opioid roundtable discussion at La Clinica Wellness Center in Medford on Friday.