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Locals eye Walden's seat

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Two Jackson County residents have filed for a chance to replace outgoing Congressman Greg Walden.

Former Oregon state senator Jason Atkinson, a Republican from Central Point, announced his candidacy Monday, and John Holm, a Democrat from Medford, announced his candidacy last week.

“I anticipate a very crowded primary,” said Atkinson.

Both Holm and Atkinson were raised in Southern Oregon. Holm’s sole opponent so far is Raz Mason, from The Dalles.

Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, has also filed to run, though other Republicans are considering entering the race as well.

Walden, who has held the 2nd Congressional District seat since 1999, announced last month he won’t seek re-election. Walden has easily won every election with 60% or more of the vote in a district that leans heavily Republican and encompasses two-thirds of the land mass of the state.

While Atkinson signaled he’d continue Walden’s legacy, Holm said he plans to do a better job than Walden, if elected.

“In Walden’s 20 years in Congress, his voting record makes it clear that he only caters to special interests,” Holm said in a prepared statement.

He’s been a Democratic strategist for 15 years, but Holm doesn’t list any public office that he’s held previously. He’s worked at a variety of jobs, including as a store manager and currently as a Realtor.

Holm said the four pillars of his platform are jobs, education, health care and honoring veterans.

“Every policy we make should make jobs, not take them,” he said in a statement. “We all saw what happened with Salem’s climate initiatives this past summer. It made a lot of folks in Eastern Oregon fear for their livelihoods.”

Atkinson, 49, represented Southern Oregon in the Oregon Senate from 2001 to 2013.

Atkinson’s first job in politics 28 years ago was as an intern for Congressman Bob Smith, who then represented Oregon Congressional District 2. At 26 he ran for the Oregon House of Representatives. While working in the Oregon Senate in 2006, Atkinson ran in the Republican primary for governor but lost to Ron Saxton. In 2013, he did not seek re-election to the Senate, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests, including producing the film “A River Between Us,” which documented the restoration of the Klamath River.

Atkinson said he has been busy setting up his campaign, including hiring former Trump senior strategist Jim Dornan.

Even though he hasn’t had a political office for years, Atkinson said he’s been waiting for the right time to make his bid for another office.

“I’m not in it to place second,” he said. “I think Congressman Walden has placed a significantly high bar in public service.”

Over his political career, Atkinson worked on a business-to-business exchange program that helped cultivate relationships with the Kurds in northern Iraq.

He said it has been “very difficult” to watch the Kurdish situation deteriorate with the Turkish invasion into northern Syria.

“I continue to be a longtime fan and friend of the Kurds,” he said.

Looking closer to home, Atkinson said he shares Walden’s concerns about rampant opioid use in the 2nd Congressional District and across the country.

“Some of these really hard drugs are devastating rural communities,” he said.

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

Former state senator Jason Atkinson announces his run for Congress. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune