The Man from Hood River
Will He Come Home to Solve
Oregonís Leadership Crisis?
By Jim Pasero
Walden is running for re-election in Oregon’s second congressional
district. Two years ago his district sent him back to Congress with 72
percent of the vote. Four years ago he got 74 percent. That year he ran
14 points ahead of President Bush in his district. No one in Oregon can
remember the last time a politician was re-elected with vote totals in
the 70th percentile. Even Congressman Earl Blumenauer, in the state’s
heavily liberal third congressional district, returns to Congress with
totals in the 60s.
is this popular, will he be Oregon’s next governor? Two things stand
in his path: the current incumbent Ted Kulongoski, and a Congressional
career that looks like a fast track to be Speaker of the U.S. House.
Morning in Hood River
4:30 a.m. The alarm bell rings and the week begins at the Walden house
on Sherman street in Hood River.
from Oregon’s Second District—a district which, according
to Michael Barone’s Almanac of American Politics, “covers
all of the state east of the Cascades and the southernmost valley between
the Cascades and the Coast Range” —is on his way to work.
It’s not a short commute to the nation’s capital in Washington
D.C., and Greg Walden has made the trip in his five-year congressional
career more than 200 times—more than 40 times a year, more than
three times a month. Says Walden somewhat goodnaturedly, about the benefits
of the long travel, “You get a lot of great airline food.”
In the next
hour Walden will get in his car, say goodbye to his wife of 22 years,
Mylene, and his 14-year-old son, Anthony, and make the 60-mile drive from
Hood River to Portland Airport.
By 8 a.m.
Walden is on board the flight that will take him to the Capitol and to
432-sq. ft. basement apartment that he rents a block away from the Cannon
House Office Building and the Library of Congress’s Madison Building.
he keep on hand in his refrigerator in D.C.?
seatmate on the 8 a.m. flight to D.C. is Washington Congressman Brian
Baird, a Democrat who was elected the same year as Walden—’98.
Says Baird, a clinical psychologist and author, about representing his
district that borders Oregon and Walden’s district, “Quite
a few Oregonians have moved to Vancouver, which makes my district either
the Third District of Washington state or the Sixth District of Oregon.”
about the travel rigors of a Western congressman: “It’s a
your family and for your body. Every time I take a red eye it takes me
two to three days to recover.”
there’s the travel time at home in-district. Other than at-large
districts that encompass a whole state, Oregon’s Second Congressional
District is the second largest in the nation. “The pace is typical
that anything less than a 12 hour day is rare,” says Baird. “My
district is big (southwest Washington), but Greg’s is huge.”
Long Days in D.C.
in those 200+ round trips to Washington D.C. that Walden has made in the
last five years he’s carried the hopes of the people of his district
with him. And it’s a district that has needed an effective congressman.
about the economy of Oregon’s Second Congressional District, “The
irony is that the state didn’t really feel the hardship that rural
Oregon was enduring until the metropolitan area had an economic problem,
and then the state had an economic problem. Yes, Portland is the engine
in so many
aspects but it is frustrating being out in the rural areas and feeling
ignored and hearing about how great the economy is in Oregon (or was).
Well go to John Day
or Burns over the last 10 years—everybody said
the economy was great but they didn’t come here
that rural Oregon had never really come out of the recession of the early
1980s when the state entered a new recession in ’01. He’s
not complaining; he’s just qualified to fill in some omitted details.
last three years several high profile issues emerged to put the Second
Congressional District and it’s congressman on the public radar—issues
upon which the congressman worked tirelessly and spoke articulately. In
the summer of ’01 the U.S. Interior Department’s water shutoff
in the Klamath Basin led the national TV networks night after night. The
Interior Dept. was attempting to save the endangered suckerfish at the
expense of farmers in Walden’s district. Walden reacted to the disaster
in a way that marks his style. He was all over the President and the administration.
Walden spent a lot of time on the phone lobbying the Interior Department,
but to his frustration the new administration had few new staff positions
in place. Walden remembers Secretary Norton’s plight. “When
it first started to happen, she had two staff members only. She literally
had herself, her chief of staff, and another person approved, when the
water got shut off. All the rest were either vacant, career civil servants,
or positions held by Clinton holdovers.”
of ’02, Walden tried another approach. He and Sen. Gordon Smith
flew to Ontario, Calif. where they jumped on Air Force One and lobbied
the President for two hours on the way to a fundraiser in Portland. (It
was only four months after 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan turned just
a month before) Walden, who drove the discussion for two hours, remembers
the President’s reaction to putting the rights of fish before farmers.
Says Walden about the conversation with the President, “My goal
was Klamath…to get that up on his radar screen. And we talked about
the problem and he turned to Karl (Rove) and said, ‘Can’t
I just issue an executive order to overturn this?’
said ‘Sorry, Mr. President, it’s the Endangered Species Act.’
had a long discussion about the problem … and when he landed in
Portland he added Klamath to his speech.”
recall vividly flying with Greg on Air Force One, talking intently on
rural issues and seeing how President Bush valued Greg’s insights,”
says U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, the third party to the conversation that
day. “Politicians gifts are manifest through communication, and
I saw Greg have a real impact on the heart and mind of the President.
He was taking in all that Greg was giving him.”
the President all that year. “It was the President who would tell
me talk to Karl, talk to Karl…
I would see the President I would raise the issue, and I would go out
of my way to be at a rope line when he was going to be at a conference,
or be along the center aisle at the State of Union. For a long time,”
jokes Walden, “the president thought my name was Klamath.”
day, when asked whether Klamath water rights or the Biscuit Fire rankles
westerners more, Walden is quick with an answer: “Klamath.”
scientists without any double checking got it wrong and the National Academy
proved that point.”
Walden held a congressional hearing in Klamath Falls on amending the Endangered
Species Act, which promises to be high profile in the next Congress.
who grew up in Hood River and The Dallas, and had an uncle who worked
for the Forest Service, also took the lead in his first term preventing
Steens Mountain from becoming a national monument. Walden remembers the
process: “I went to French Glen and held a meeting with the ranching
community and said, ‘It looks like we have two options—we
can do nothing, and take our chances on a national monument where the
government will set all the rules, or we can try to write legislation
and you be party to it and if you don’t like it, we’re in
the majority and I can kill it—you decide.’”
“The ranchers came forward with a cow-free wilderness area in exchange
for the ability to continue to do ranching lower on the mountain.”
In the cooperative
agreement completed in the fall of 2000, Walden says he is most proud
of the local involvement of management techniques that may not be allowed
in other wilderness areas. “We created our own package to work on
that,” says Walden, and in a state where more than half of the land
is owned and managed, or mismanaged, by the federal government, that’s
not a small deal.
Creating Healthy Forests
But by his
third term dramatic wildfires had burned nearly 10 million acres of national
forests in the West. Oregon’s Biscuit Fire was just one of those
fires. The sheer devastation, the disastrous federal forest policy, the
refusal of environmentalists to let the federal government manage these
forests, and Walden’s knowledge and passion on the issue helped
secure Walden the chairmanship of the Resource Subcommittee on Forests
and Forest Health.
chairman of the Subcommittee on Forest and Forests Health, Colorado’s
Scott McInnis discusses the political change that led to such a disastrous
federal forest policy. “When I took the chairmanship it was a dull
committee, but then the fires broke out and it became one of the most
earlier, McInnis and his wife removed the bodies of 14 firefighters from
Colorado’s Storm King Mountain. The issue is personal with him.
in the ’60s were anti-multiple use for the forests—groups
like the Sierra Club, Earth First, Greenpeace, and the Wilderness Society.
These groups opposed multiple use in their public debate. They wanted
the national forests to go from a land of many uses to no trespassing.
But they couldn’t win their debates against the forest service people
because they know their product. The environmentalists figured out the
forest service would base their arguments on science, so they moved the
decision making process over the next 20 years from science at the forest
level to an emotional level at Congress. And then they moved to the courtroom.
Between those two strategies the forests were greatly mismanaged.”
“I get so tired of driving through eastern Oregon towns where the
mills are not only closed but auctioned and gone, and the forests are
overgrown and dying, and we’re losing the infrastructure to do the
management work that good stewardship demands.
talk about a 15-acre clear cut as if it’s a terrible thing, and
don’t say a word about a half million-acre moonscape after a fire,”
says Walden. “They say, well that’s natural… Well okay,
but my son and grandkids are never going to enjoy the big green healthy
forests that we have today if we stand back and litigate and appeal and
take no action, perform no stewardship, and it all goes up in smoke. That’s
not very good habitat.”
like McInnis, grew up with knowledge of the forests. Their passion drove
the passing of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act in this 108th Congress.
McInnis and Walden had hoped to pass the bill in the 107th Congress, but
were blocked by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who hoped to keep
the issue alive in the ’02 election.
disastrous California fires that summer moved key western Democrat senators.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden wanted to get
something done—and fast. “Had those fires not occurred, the
Senate would have put it on the shelf and not heard it,” says McInnis.
the Healthy Forest Restoration Act passed was critical, says Chris West,
Vice President of the American Forest Resource Council, because it changed
the paradigm of the discussion, where the needle had been stuck for 30
years. “The debate,” says West, “evolved from jobs and
logging to preserving our habitats and home.
of the change will come not from the bill,” says West, “but
from 1) administrative rule fixes, 2) legislative fixes, and 3) changing
the debate and refocusing how people manage the forests. Congress will
now worry about forest health and so will the federal agencies. That’s
the change in the paradigm.”
190 million acres of federal forests that need to be thinned, and the
Act has only authorized the thinning of 20 million acres. This year the
will treat two million acres. “It’s a big job,” says
McInnis, “thinning an acre takes a lot
name is on the bill, he says “It really should be the McInnis-Walden
bill. My forest bill would not have passed if it had not been for Greg
and Walden worked tirelessly writing, planning strategy, and finally lobbying
for the bill. McInnis describes how he and Walden persuaded some of the
more stubborn members of Congress to come aboard. The technique was good
cop, bad cop. “I am a grumpy guy,” says McInnis. “When
I was lobbying a member I would lose my temper, say to hell with it, see
you next year, and stomp out of the room, and then give Greg a high-five
and he would go in. Greg is a master at smoothing things over, and he
has a talent at finding common ground.”
In the end,
says McInnis, he and Walden passed what he believes is the most significant
piece of forest legislation in 50 years. As for what he thinks of his
legislative partner, McInnis says, “While I’m retiring, you’re
just beginning to see Greg’s talents.”
who represents California’s 45th
district, serves on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the
Internet with Walden and has watched him work the last three sessions.
“How do you define leadership?” asks Bono. “You look
behind the veil of who the person is presenting to who he
she sees the real deal. “In a body of 435 people, I have friends
and Greg is one of them. He hasn’t come here with blazing ambition.
Some members come here with ambition higher than their skills, some come
to run for President and they don’t care who they walk over. Greg
would never walk over someone for higher office. Are members truly here
for public service, to serve this country, or are they here for their
own purposes? There is good ambition and bad ambition. Greg reminds me
of Sonny—plainspoken, friendly, and people like working with him.”
leadership skills? “If his name is on something,” says Bono,
“members will look at the bill and believe there is merit in it.
It really is his greatest asset. He is the kind of person I would get
in line behind. I respect and admire his ability to lead.”
says that Walden was influential in getting him to vote for the Healthy
Forest bill, even though Norm Dicks, dean of the Washington Democrat delegation,
and Peter DeFazio were breaking against the bill. “Greg did a very
good job on the Healthy Forest bill. He’s very thoughtful,”
says Baird. “You could ask him about any aspect of the bill and
he knew it, was willing to discuss it, and came back promptly with good
answers. I had some concerns, we sat down and discussed it, and I voted
for the bill, even though I didn’t vote for it the first round.”
would later explain his vote to his constituents this way. “I thought
it was a pro-environment vote—good for public safety, good for our
forests. They’re not always antithetical. We can find some common
The leadership skills that Representatives McInnis, Bono, and Baird see
in Walden are skills that Oregonians are noticing—especially at
a time when the state is suffering the Goldschmidt fallout, and the governor
is perceived as nice but weak.
Filling the Void
So is three-term
Cong. Greg Walden the answer to the state’s leadership crisis? Should
he be the next governor of Oregon? Can he redirect the state with the
worst economy in the country?
Walden is taking dead aim at Kulongoski’s leadership skills. And
he is not impressed.
Kulongoski abrogated his leadership responsibility in my mind,”
says Walden bluntly.
Walden, former two-term majority leader of the Oregon House, think of
the state of Oregon being running by Democrat governors for 20 years?
“It’s just as when the Congress turned over after 40 years
(’94)…there is a time when you have to give a different philosophy
an opportunity to show you how it could be done better, and I think Oregon
needs that. Now.”
critical of two things in Kulongoski’s first two years in office—his
support of tax increases, and his willingness to follow rather than lead
governor you can make a difference, if you want to. Arnold has star power,
but look at how he has used his talents to turn around a decade-long seige
in Sacramento of one-party destroying the state’s economy.
we’ve seen for too long in Oregon is that the only change a governor
would come forward with is, ‘I want to take more of your money through
higher taxes.’ And voters say, ‘Uh, I don’t think so.’
And a year later the voters say, again, ‘Didn’t we tell you—I
don’t think so?’
it would be nice to have a governor who said, ‘Here’s another
way—let’s grow this state.’ But again, if your philosophy
is that government holds the solution, that by growing government that
will solve the problem, then your only solution is to go and raise taxes,
because you’ve got to pay for it. And that is the cycle that we’ve
been in far too long.
used to get frustrated when I was on the Ways and Means committee in Salem
trying to get at waste in government,” says Walden. “But you
cannot control these budgets as a legislator. You don’t have the
time in six months to out-think the bureaucrats, you don’t have
the expertise to get into that level. That’s the job of the executive—to
run the agencies. That’s where the change can be driven effectively.”
not Kulongoski, says Walden. “You don’t say to the legislature,
‘Lead the state, and I’ll follow.’ Whoever is governor
has got to lead, and that’s not always easy.”
Governor Atiyeh saying that they couldn’t take the office away from
him. “He had his term, and he was going to use it,” says Walden.
“He was going to make the decisions he felt were in the best interests
of the state, even if at times they weren’t popular.”
Walden want to be governor? “Yes,” says Walden.
think being governor would be the ultimate public serve calling because
it’s a state I care deeply about. I think it would be an extraordinary
opportunity to see if you couldn’t move this state forward by bringing
in some new blood, by tapping into enormous resources that are out there,
intellectual capital that has been shunned for years. We always seem to
go back to the same people to run the agencies, the same people to serve
on the boards and commissions. There are many other people out there with
extraordinary talent that could be tapped.”
Governor be retired in ’06? “I think the state would be served
with a shake-up, a clean-out…it’s time.”
It may be
time for Oregon to change governing parties, but is it time for Walden?
natural resource community this is a complicated question. To have a skillful
rising star in the U.S. House, and the chairmanship of a critical subcommittee
Mike Fahey, CEO of Columbia Helicopters in Aurora, Ore., says he spends
about 15 to 20 percent of his time on federal policy issues, and that
having Walden as the point person is invaluable. “Where he is right
now is important, but within a couple of years his input nationally will
only get bigger,” says Fahey, “and what I want is good forest
policy for the nation. If you want to have a solid economy, you can’t
do it without resources.”
VP of Seneca Sawmills in Eugene, Ore., and chairman of the legal committee
for the American Forest Resource Council, echoes sentiments about Walden’s
talent and his importance to the resource industry in the U.S. House.
“I wish we could clone him,” says Riddle.
who along with Fahey, is one of the region’s leading strategist
on federal resource issues, would prefer that Walden stay in Washington,
but acknowledges the personal toll paid by working 3,000 miles from home.
He adds, “Greg should do what is best for him and his family.”
owner of Freres Lumber in Lyons, Ore., is also a longtime board member
of Associated Oregon Industries. His thoughts reflect how many in Oregon’s
business community may be feeling. “Because I am a timber-dependent
mill owner I would prefer him where he is for my own self-interest. But
when you look at it from the broader perspective, Greg would breathe new
life into our state politics with his vigor, his enthusiasm, and his intellect.
It’s obvious that 20 years of single-party domination has caused
this state great harm. We have a crisis in leadership when Kulongoski
relies on Goldschmidt for his ideas on higher education, and on Kitzhaber
for forest policy. We have yet to hear an original idea from Kulongoski.
He’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t have original ideas.”
of Walden for governor campaign has tremendous appeal to Oregon’s
GOP, because he is popular and because it might resolve worries about
the two current contenders, Ron Saxton and Kevin Mannix. Saxton could
have difficulty winning the party’s primary and Mannix could have
difficulty winning statewide.
however, is cautious about future plans. “I really like what I am
doing right now, and have gotten to a point in the Congress where I can
really have a strong impact on legislation—legislation important
to the Northwest. It takes a while to get there, so I’m not ready
to say, here’s an opportunity so I’ll go do that now, because
this is a huge responsibility.”
adds: “I think about running for governor. I set up to run for governor
in ’94, until we found out our son had a heart defect. I was due
to announce my candidacy on Monday and we found out about his heart condition
on the Friday before and I called it off.” (Walden’s son died
a day after his birth.)
another reason that Walden might decide not to run for Govenor in ’06,
and that’s because Kulongoski could be tough to beat if he chooses
to run for reelection. Says Walden, “It’s easier to win an
open seat than to take out an incumbent, unless that incumbent has really
faltered, and I don’t think Kulongoski has really faltered yet…but
Tim Hibbitts, of Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall Inc. of Portland, says
Walden is right to be cautious about Kulongoski’s reelection chances.
Says Hibbitts about Kulongoski: “I can script a scenario where he
runs and wins, and I can script a scenario where he loses. The governor
is well liked personally, but his job performance is not as strong as
his personal rating. I wouldn’t describe him as unpopular, but his
job performance profile is fairly weak.”
Is it accurate
to see Kulongoski as Goldschmidt’s puppet? No, says Hibbitts, that’s
not fair. “That’s the same perception
as people who claim that Bush is Cheney’s puppet,” In neither
case is it accurate, believes Hibbitts.
in the last decade show Oregon closely politically divided: Wyden 48.4
percent vs. Smith 46.9 percent (U.S. Senate) ’95. Gore 47.3 percent
vs. Bush 46.9 percent (President) ’00. And Kulongoski 49.1 percent
vs. Mannix 46.3 percent (Governor) ‘02. In all three elections Republicans
lost by a whisker.
the Goldschmidt fallout be enough to tilt the state away from one-party
rule? Flip it Republican? Hibbitts says it’s too early to assess
the Goldschmidt damage, but doubts the scandal will be determinative in
the ’06 election.
Hibbitts does see a tightening of the state’s politics. “The
state registration between Ds and Rs (39 to 37) is the closest it’s
been in 40 years. That’s a competitive mix. You would assume there
would be statewide officeholders from both parties. But why only Gordon?
may blame it on the media,” says Hibbitts, “and there’s
an element of truth to that. But the real problems is that Republicans
harm themselves by running candidates who are further out of the mainstream
than can win.”
believes that you have to adapt to the political climate of your state
and he compares current Oregon Republicans to past Arizona Democrats who
repeatedly nominated candidates too liberal to win. “Now the Democrats
have a governor in Arizona,” says Hibbitts, “but she’s
Idaho, or Utah, a candidate from a strong conservative background can
win, but not in Oregon,” says Hibbitts. “That’s just
uses Kevin Mannix’s past campaign as the example. “Kevin Mannix
ran a good campaign for governor but the odds would say that ’02
was his high water mark.” Hibbitts believes Mannix had everything
going for him and still couldn’t win – “1) incumbents
were relatively unpopular and 2) half the parties in control of state
As for Saxton
winning a GOP primary. “Saxton needs to do some fence mending of
the party’s base, which is culturally and economically conservative.
He has to acknowledge that.”
see Gordon Smith as the electable model, “a centrist conservative,”
and puts Greg Walden in the same mold. Walden has all the elements to
make him successful—he’s a moderate conservative, thoughtful,
and he looks like he can broker deals.”
drawback: “He’s unknown outside his district,” says
A Model to Follow
current two-term governor of Idaho, faced a decision in ’98 much
like one Walden faces for ’06. Kempthorne chose to leave a successful
senate career, where his closest friend had been Majority Leader Bob Dole,
to return to Boise and become governor. Why did he do it? “I always
considered myself a hands-on individual and the opportunity to be the
chief executive of a sovereign state was a great honor.”
made the decision to return to Boise he took a poll of his fellow senators.
“I asked every incumbent U.S. Senator who had served as governor
for their thoughts. Everyone without exception said if you can be the
chief executive, that is something special, so go do it. You will never
Walden decides to run for governor, he’s got a clear idea of which
past governor would be the model for his administration: Vic Atiyeh. Walden
believes that every 25 years or so, when the economy is especially broken,
you need a small businessman to be the state’s CEO.
of the things that has kept me grounded all this time is being a small
business person. We really haven’t had a small businessperson or
businessperson as governor in a generation, not since Vic Atiyeh. Atiyeh
was a great governor. He held the line on spending in a very difficult
time, and he laid the foundation for what growth we’ve seen in Oregon,
what diversity we’ve seen in Oregon. Others have profited from him
politically and otherwise. He did the heavy lifting.
there have been people brought into government who are so far up in a
business or public utility that they are big vision people who don’t
understand the gut instinct that small business people feel every day.”
who owns five radio stations with a total of 15 employees, has a ton of
that gut instinct. The man from Hood River will need every ounce of it
if he chooses to come home and run for governor.