WASHINGTON — As a former software developer, Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum enjoys solving problems, step by step.
In his latest venture, he aims to tackle perhaps his most ambitious challenge yet: fixing the way Congress approaches fiscal responsibility.
Last month, Linthicum, 57, launched his campaign to unseat eight-term incumbent Greg Walden, R-Hood River, as the Second Congressional District representative in Washington. Linthicum, currently serving his first term as a Klamath County Commissioner, and Walden will face off May 20 in the Republican primary.
“Government is inefficient,” Linthicum said during a recent phone interview. “I'm fighting for a government that lands within its constitutional scope instead of a government that gets into every boundary, wherever it sees a rule or regulation that it thinks is important.”
In Linthicum's view, federal overreach causes two major problems: too much spending to keep up with a bloated bureaucracy, and the trampling of individual freedoms envisioned by the country's Founding Fathers.
“After three years in the commissioner's office, I see the turmoil that's created at the county level because of state legislative action and federal legislative action. The guys at the federal level make so many rules the individual here on the ground floor can hardly keep up with them,” he said. “At some point, the way to free the economy is to free individual action.”
17 trillion reasons
As an example, he points to the lawsuit filed in October by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and six other state attorneys general against the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The suit alleges the agency has not done enough under the Clean Air Act to combat air pollution caused by small particulate matter, often produced by wood-burning stoves, cars and industry.
“They want the federal government to exercise more control and publish their standards. The truth is, today, 80 percent of companies already exceed the new standard that the lawsuit is trying to achieve,” he said. In the years required to litigate and propagate a new standard, the remaining 20 percent will probably have achieved compliance also, he said.
All this comes at a cost to taxpayers, he said.
“I've got 17 trillion reasons why I think the fiscal path that we're on is not a good path,” he said, referring to the amount of U.S. national debt. “We've got to quit consuming so many resources that we need to borrow money from future generations or from China.”
Linthicum views Walden as a statist, “someone who believes in the power of the state and the authority of the state above and beyond the authority of the individual.”
The framers of the U.S. Constitution disagreed with that world view wholeheartedly, he said.
“They tried to formulate boundaries for government. Individual liberty is a priority, and boundaries for government in creating a robust, free society are necessary,” Linthicum said. “Your individual liberty and your individual freedom and your rights as an individual have all been codified in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And that is what government is designed to protect, not to infringe upon.”
Linthicum said the recent government shutdown would not have been necessary if excessive government spending that began under President Bill Clinton and continued during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations had been reined in.
“Here again, I think, is where Greg Walden failed us. The debt started getting superheated and inflated under George (W.) Bush,” Linthicum said. “Walden, as a statist, was busy going with the crowd, (thinking) this was OK (because) there was a Republican in office. This was a tragic mistake, because now that Obama's there, nobody really believes you when you say you're against the debt.”
Asked for comment, the Walden campaign issued the following statement from Walden: “I work hard every day to get results for Central Oregon, and I look forward to earning the trust of the voters again next year. I remain focused on reducing the size and cost of the federal government and growing Central Oregon's economy to create jobs in the woods, on our farms, and in the high-tech sector.”
Walden, the fifth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives by virtue of his chairmanship of the National Republican Congressional Committee, voted against the deal that ended the 16-day government shutdown last month. It was a rare instance of Walden not voting with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, with whom he is closely aligned politically.
“This temporary plan does nothing to address the epic problem: spending borrowed money we don't have and cannot sustain. It kicks the can down the road yet again for only three months, and we'll be right back where we ended up this week. Enough is enough,” Walden said in a prepared statement at the time. “Every day, families throughout Oregon and the country sit down around their kitchen tables to balance their budgets and discuss crises and practical ways to resolve them. It's long overdue that Washington, D.C., does the same.”
Linthicum said that if voters send him to Washington, he would seek to align himself with tea party favorites Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky. He also praised the way Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have injected new ideas into the public discourse.
Linthicum particularly admired the single-sentence amendment co-sponsored by Amash to the last defense appropriations bill in July. The amendment would have banned the National Security Agency from using any funds to collect phone records of people within the United States without reasonable suspicion, and narrowly failed by a 205-217 vote. Walden voted against the amendment.
Linthicum viewed Amash's amendment as an effort to restore the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens' right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” By conducting electronic surveillance of law-abiding Americans without justification, the National Security Agency is running roughshod over the Fourth Amendment, he said.
“If you're a suspect, (they) can rummage through your sock drawer. If you're not a suspect, you're just a mom looking for a potato cooker, (they've) got no reason to come breathing down your neck,” he said. “If we allow the federal government to take away our Fourth Amendment right, is the First Amendment worth anything? Is the 10th?”
Oregon's Second District tilts Republican, with 171,846 registered Republicans and 128,243 registered Democrats and another 116,069 either unaffiliated or registered as Independent, according to the latest figures from the Oregon Secretary of State.
In eight general elections since 1998, Walden has never received less than 61.5 percent of the vote.
Linthicum and Diane, his wife of 33 years, moved to Oregon from California in 1995. They have two adult children, Dani and Denver, who live in Bend and Reno, Nev., respectively, with their spouses.
“We were sort of looking for rural America, we have always enjoyed the Northwest,” Linthicum said of their decision to relocate to Klamath Falls. Their home is not hooked up to the electrical grid, thanks to a series of solar panels.
Linthicum likened his primary challenge to a tryout for quarterback, with the team being made stronger as both candidates show their skills and sharpen their ideas.
“I really do believe in the open marketplace, not only for consumer goods, but also in the world of ideas,” he said. “And I think that the voters of the Second District will be well served by getting an alternate choice.”