Economy looms large in race for 2nd District

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev

Greg Walden

Age: 57

Residence: Hood River

Experience: Former member of Oregon Legislature; eight-term member of Congress

WASHINGTON — With the 2014 midterm elections looming, Oregon’s lackluster economic recovery remains a major issue for the candidates vying to represent Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District in Congress.

More than four years after the recession ended, unemployment remains higher in Oregon than the national average, particularly in the rural communities that make up the bulk of the 2nd District. As they campaign ahead of the May 20 primary, incumbent Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, Republican challenger and Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum, and Bend businesswoman and former Cover Oregon board member Aelea Christofferson, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, all expect to spend a lot of time discussing the economy.

Walden, the former owner of a small chain of radio stations, is seeking his ninth term in Congress, having been first elected in 1998. Since then, he has risen through the Republican ranks, becoming the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s congressional campaign wing, which makes him the fifth-ranking member of the House of Representatives.

In a recent interview, Walden said he works hard to “take the heavy hand of federal government off the throats of working Oregonians.”

Having grown up on a cherry orchard in The Dalles before graduating from high school in Hood River, where he has lived since college, Walden said he understands the burden that over-regulation poses for small Oregon businesses.

“I have in my bloodstream the very sense of how rural Oregon functions and how small businesses function and what it takes to grow a business and comply with all the rules and regulations,” he said. “Yes there’s a role for government, yes there’s a role for common-sense regulation, but too often that common-sense piece is missing and you get overloaded with regulations that don’t make a lot of sense.”

Walden pointed to his involvement in passing a forestry management bill in the House last September as an example of his championing the culture and way of life in rural Oregon through the preservation of access to natural resources and public lands. The bill calls for increased logging on national forests to pay for timber payments to forested counties, and Walden co-wrote — along with Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and Kurt Schrader, D-Canby — a section that deals with more than 2 million acres of federal forestland unique to Oregon.

“I bring conservative values to this district and common-sense solutions. I work across the aisle if I think that’s the best way to get something done for the benefit of the people, and I’ll continue to do that as I did on the forestry bill,” he said.

Linthicum, Walden’s first challenger in a primary since 2006, said that if elected, he would vote on principle, not on party allegiance. A self-described “constitutional conservative,” Linthicum believes the federal government has grown beyond the role established for it by the Constitution.

Linthicum grew up in Southern California, where he earned degrees from the University of California at Los Angeles in economics and Biola University in Christian apologetics. He and Diane, his wife of 33 years, moved to Oregon in 1995, and he became a Klamath County commissioner in 2010.

“Our economy is struggling here in Eastern Oregon, the federal government is exercising more and more authority over our daily lives, and it’s getting harder and harder to be an entrepreneur or start a business or make a living, and that’s part of the reason why I want to jump from my county commissioner seat,” he said.

As a member of Congress, Linthicum pledged he would spearhead a movement to push the federal government to cede control of public lands back to the state.

The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act are all examples of federal overreach, he said. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, those issues are best decided on a local level.

“I think 50 unique experiments in environmental policy, air policy, water policy would be fabulous because we would each find that sweet spot that would meet the needs of our communities,” he said.

For Linthicum, the simplest way to end federal intrusion is to defund the offending programs, such as the Affordable Care Act and the National Security Administration’s bulk surveillance of electronic communications.

“It’s really a mistake to think you shouldn’t be guided by principles, and I think we have to stand on these principles for the economic prosperity of America,” he said.

Aelea Christofferson, a Bend businesswoman running for the Democrat nomination, would also like to see more policy decisions made at the local level, but thinks the federal government’s expertise and size can create economies of scale. As an example, she cited education, where the federal government has the resources to incorporate the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation research on technology and learning into a workable curriculum, she said.

The point is not to have the government dictate what school districts must do, but to have done some of the statistically driven research to help improve outcomes, she said.

Christofferson is the founder and president of ATL Communications, which helps toll-free numbers reduce routing costs and helps them re-establish service following disasters. She is the former president of the Sunriver Chamber of Commerce, and until she announced her run for Congress, a member of the Cover Oregon board.

Her critics have seized upon her involvement with Cover Oregon, trying to link her to the website’s disastrous rollout. But they overlook that Cover Oregon is part of a larger effort to help Oregonians’ ability to improve their health, she said.

“I don’t deny that we have a website problem. I don’t deny that I was on the board during the time that the website problem became hugely difficult,” she said. “To have many of the politicians in the country latch onto that and try to restart the discussion on health care reform based on website issues makes me very angry.”

The Affordable Care Act’s opponents, including Walden, have not tried to help people get the health care they need, she said.

“‘No’ is not a plan for how to solve anything,” she said.

Christofferson faulted Congress for putting partisanship ahead of whether an issue has merit.

“Instead of looking at each issue and deciding what is good for the state and for the country, it’s more based on, ‘I have to vote with the party,’” she said.

Barney Spera, a retiree from Ashland, and Frank Vulliet, an attorney and writer from Sunriver, have also filed to seek the Democrat nomination, but neither appear to be publicly campaigning or have any campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission .

—  Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com

Dennis Linthicum

Age: 58

Residence: Beatty

Experience: Klamath County commissioner, Klamath County Republican Party precinct committeeman

Aelea Christofferson

Age: 61

Residence: Bend

Experience: Former board member, Cover Oregon; past president, Sunriver Chamber of Commerce