Walden, Oregon's Only Congressional Republican, Won't Run For
congressional Republican is calling it quits.
U.S. Rep. Greg
Walden announced Monday morning that he won’t run for
reelection in 2020, putting a close to more than two decades
in the U.S. Capitol.
“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 said in a statement, making clear he had
no plans to run for another office. “For me, the time has
come to pursue new challenges and opportunities.”
decision had been rumored in recent days, but it is likely
to surprise many in Oregon’s Republican establishment, some
of whom expressed doubts last week when asked about Walden’s
2020 plans and the chance he might retire. The decision also
marks a turnaround for a successful politician who earlier
this year said he was focused on winning reelection and
helping Republicans reclaim a majority in the U.S. House of
did not respond to inquiries about his reelection plans last
is almost certain to set off a dogfight among Republicans
over who might replace Walden in the state’s only reliably
Republican district, and it will likely have Democrats
viewing the seat with fresh interest.
winning his seat in 1998, Walden has twice led House
Republicans’ campaign operations — in the 2014 and 2016
elections. He’s served as chairman of House leadership under
former Speaker John Boehner and chairman of the powerful
House Energy and Commerce Committee. In the latter role,
Walden wielded influence on a wide array of issues,
including health care, energy policy and the internet.
For nearly all
of his time in Congress, Walden has served in the majority
party. Prior to 2019, Democrats controlled the chamber for
just four years of his tenure. When Republicans lost control
of the House after the 2018 election, Walden’s committee
chairmanship went with it.
year, Walden dismissed speculation that he might be looking
to exit Congress in an interview with Politico. Instead, he
suggested he was bent on helping Republicans win back power
— and rekindling his own influence.
“I’m a chairman
in exile,” Walden told Politico. “I’ve got two more years as
chairman. That’s my focus.”
speculation continued. As a mounting number of Republicans
have announced they will not run for reelection in what
could be a difficult 2020 race, Walden’s name has surfaced
as a political moderate who could be ready to call it quits.
“About a month
and a half ago there was an article” speculating on Walden’s
retirement, said state Sen. Cliff Bentz, who, like Walden,
represents a wide swath of eastern Oregon. “I saw it, and
people began calling me. I said, ‘Call Greg.’”
circulated despite the political realities of Walden’s
district, which the congressman has always won handily. The
sprawling district, nearly twice the size of Maine, spans
more than 70% of the state, but it contains few urban areas
likely to go for more liberal candidates.
Even facing an
energetic challenge from Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner in
2018 — and facing blowback for his role in trying to
overturn the Affordable Care Act — Walden won the rosy-red
district by 17 points. Republican voter registrations in the
district outstrip Democrats’ by 8 percentage points.
One sign of
Walden’s sure footing: His name didn’t appear on a recent
“retirement watch list” created by the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee. Growth in cities such as
Bend, Ashland and Walden’s home of Hood River suggested the
district might become more challenging for a Republican
incumbent. As he acknowledged to Politico earlier this year,
the district “sure as heck ain’t getting any redder.”
statement Monday, Walden said he believed he could continue
his string of victories if he chose to run again:
recent polling, strong fundraising, and the backing of my
wife and family, I am confident I could earn the support of
2nd District voters for another term,” the statement said.
“I’m also optimistic that a path exists for Republicans to
recapture a majority in the House, and that I could return
for two more years as chairman of the House Energy and
was echoed by U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, who serves
as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“I spoke to
Greg and he assured me that he will remain heavily engaged
in ensuring this seat remains in Republican hands,” Emmer
said in a statement. “This is a solidly Republican district
and it will remain so in 2020.”
As soon as
Walden’s decision became public Monday, speculation began
about who would seek to replace him. Some possibilities
being raised in Republican circles: Former state Rep. Knute
Buehler, who last year unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Kate
Brown; Mike McLane, a former House Republican leader from
Powell Butte, who now serves as a circuit court judge; and
state Sen. Tim Knopp from Bend.
departure from Congress marks the end of 30 years in elected
office that began when he won a seat in the Oregon House of
Representatives in 1988. Even then, at 31, Walden was
steeped in Republican politics. He’d spent six years as an
aide to Republican Oregon Rep. Denny Smith prior to his own
run for the state house.
ascended to a leadership role in Oregon’s lower chamber —
and even flirted with a run for governor — before moving to
the state Senate in 1995. Three years later, he won the
Congressional seat he holds today.
For much of his
time in politics, Walden and his wife, Mylene, also ran a
group of small radio stations in Hood River and The Dalles,
an experience he has said gives him more expertise on
broadcasting legislation than other members of congress.
Walden sold the stations in 2007.
moderate leanings, Walden has maintained a relatively
sanguine relationship with President Donald Trump over the
last three years.
“My job is to
get things done for the 2nd District of Oregon, first, and
for the country,” he told OPB in late 2017, less than a year
into Trump’s presidency. “I’m more valuable in doing that if
I have a good strong, thoughtful relationship with the
president of the United States.”
As Trump faces
an impeachment inquiry by Democrats — and questions about
whether he withheld foreign aid to Ukraine in an attempt to
win political favors from the country — Walden, like his
Republican colleagues, has declined to criticize the
Democrats of a flawed process in the inquiry, and in late
September, he suggested that the known facts about Trump’s
much-publicized phone call with the Ukrainian president did
not amount to “high crimes and misdemeanors” that would be
has not been lockstep with his party’s standard bearer. He
chafed in 2017 after he’d worked with the White House to
craft legislation to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Trump
first encouraged the bill, before calling it “mean” because
it would result in millions losing their health coverage.
“It was not
appreciated,” Walden told OPB. “I conveyed my displeasure to
the White House.”
Walden has parted company with Trump on legislation
involving a border wall and sanctions on Russia, among other
departure from Congress had been a subject of speculation,
it came as a surprise to Republicans in his home state.
Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, represents a swath of Walden’s
district. He said recently that he’d heard nothing of the
congressman’s plan to resign. “I’d bet against it, if I were
a betting man,” he said.
Dan Lavey, a
strategist who has helped with Republican campaigns, said
last week he believed talk of Walden’s departure was
Then there was
Bentz, who said he’d talked to Walden months ago, shortly
after speculation the congressman wouldn’t run again
emerged. Bentz said Walden made no mention of future plans,
and that he’d assumed the longtime lawmakers would run again
“I would just
hope that he is running again,” Bentz said last week. “
Please, Greg. Please.”
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