“I’ve got some level of seniority built up here, which helps when you’re trying to solve problems because in the legislative body, it really gets down to the relationships that you’;ve built over time,” Walden said. “I think I’m well-positioned right now in the committee I’m on to make a real difference.”
Walden picked up some political clout at the start of this year, when the National Republican Congressional Committee named him vice chairman, with responsibility for organizing the GOP’s campaign efforts at the regional level.
“I think this is our opportunity to come back to try and restore some fiscal sanity, and try and stop the big government takeovers that are occurring,” Walden said.
“I’m more and more optimistic as each day goes by, and we see the decisions coming out from Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and others. Americans are going to step up and say these guys are going a little further than what we wanted.”
On the Democratic side of the aisle, former Gov. John Kitzhaber is the favorite to return to the state Capitol. But Walden said he wasn’t scared by the possibility of a high-profile opponent.
“If anything, his entrance in the race almost was an encouragement to me to run,” Walden said.
“Having served in the Legislature when he was there as governor, it is not an optimistic thought that he might return and govern again, to me. I just think we’re on the economic foundation that his government laid, and it’s not very stable right now.”
Walden served as majority leader in the state House from 1991 until 1993, and as assistant majority leader in the state Senate from 1995 until 1997. Kitzhaber was governor from 1995 until 2003.
Kitzhaber is being challenged in the Democratic primary by former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and a lesser-known candidate, Roger Obrist. Steve Shields, of Corvallis, announced his withdrawal from the governor’s race Thursday. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, has entertained entering the race but has remained noncommittal when asked if he’ll run for governor.
Political analyst Jim Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove, said Walden’s departure leaves state Republicans without a marquee candidate.
“It clearly is bad for the Republican party, unless they can find a stronger person,” Moore said. “It means the Republicans have to redouble their efforts to find a stronger, more credible candidate than the ones they have.”
Walden said there are some “good candidates” in the Republican field now but added that he doesn’t plan to make an endorsement or otherwise get involved in the primary.
Currently, the Republican front-runners are 2008 state treasurer candidate Allen Alley, who lost to Ben Westlund, and former state Rep. John Lim. Redmond appraiser Michael Hotchkiss has also filed paperwork to run.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that former Portland Trail Blazers center Chris Dudley has filed preliminary paperwork to run for governor as a Republican but hasn’t officially entered the race.