Walden’s Central Oregon town halls

Saturday

Deschutes County Town Hall Meeting

When: 2:30 p.m.

Where: Mountain View High School auditorium, 2755 NE 27th St., Bend

Sunday

Jefferson County Town Hall Meeting

When: 11 a.m.

Where: Jefferson County Senior Center, 860 SW Madison, Madras

Crook County Town Hall Meeting

When: 2: p.m.

Where: Crook County High School, 1100 SE Lynn Blvd., Prineville

Greg Walden returns to Bend this Saturday for a town hall in one of the most Democratic-leaning enclaves of his solidly Republican 2nd Congressional District.

The GOP lawmaker from Hood River will hold town halls in Madras and Prineville on Sunday.

The town halls occur amid a record-breaking federal government shutdown. Walden has been one of a handful of Republicans to vote with Democrats to reopen much of the government. It’s a rare split between Walden and President Donald Trump.

Much has changed since Walden’s last Bend town hall in April 2017. He won an 11th term in the U.S. House in November, but with less than 60 percent of the vote for the first time in his career. It was the first time in two decades Walden lost Deschutes County — though by a razor thin margin. He won 61 percent of the vote in Jefferson County and 72 percent in Crook County.

With Democrats taking control of the House, Walden is no longer chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

During the past two years, Walden supported GOP-led tax cuts, an end to net neutrality, and an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now he is in the House minority, which must deal with Democrats in charge of the agenda.

Like the April 2017 town hall, Walden’s public appearance Saturday is expected to draw vocal opponents to challenge his record in Congress. The Women’s March in Bend will be Saturday, and some organizers have encouraged marchers to go directly afterward to the town hall.

In advance of the town hall, The Bulletin asked Walden about his agenda for the night, his take on his record, and what’s ahead for the next two years. Some of his answers have been edited for the sake of brevity.

Q: Opponents of your political positions are organizing to attend your Bend town hall. How do you expect it will shape the event?

A: “I’ve always had an open-door policy and fully anticipate huge turnouts. I welcome everyone and hope it is a productive and proves that Oregonians don’t have to mimic the shouting matches back in Washington to make their point.”

Q: What issues will you talk about?

A: “I’ll provide a brief report on accomplishments related to forestry, fire, jobs, the economy, veterans, health care, opioids, the shutdown and border security. We made progress on everything from combating the opioid crisis to expanding broadband to rural communities. But there’s more work ahead on all of these issues.”

Q: During your last town hall in Bend, the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act was a topic many in attendance bought up. Looking back, do you think the attempted repeal was a good idea or a mistake? What would you have done differently, if anything?

A: “My focus was to give patients access to affordable health insurance, which is still something people struggle with under current law. Part of our efforts sought to free states to innovate with health care systems, like Oregon does with coordinated care organizations. Moving forward, my top priority is tackling the cost drivers in our health care system. I led the effort to streamline the approval process for generic drugs and helped pass legislation into law that bans gag clauses, which limited a patient’s ability to save on prescription medication. I passed legislation that strengthened key public health programs like community health centers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

Q: The Democrats have taken control of the House. How has that changed your role and influence? How are you re-directing your energies without a chairmanship?

A: “My most important job is to solve problems for the people of Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon. I’ve always worked across the aisle to get results. Under my leadership, the Energy and Commerce Committee worked in a bipartisan manner to get 57 pieces of legislation signed into law and 93 percent of our bills that passed the House received support from both parties. I will continue to advocate for this kind of bipartisanship as the Republican leader on the Energy and Commerce Committee and work with my Democratic colleagues where we can to find agreement.”

Q: Why have you been one of the handful of House Republicans to vote for some of the bills to reopen the federal government?

A: “The men and women who work for the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies shouldn’t be held hostage while the debate rages on over funding border security. They have important work that is now a month behind. They and their families are important parts of communities.”

Q: But you back President Trump’s demand for funding for a wall on the border with Mexico?

A: “I do agree with the President that we need increased border security. I have repeatedly supported securing our border with physical barriers, added technology, additional border agents and so much more. We need to fix the broken immigration system and secure our borders.”

Q: What is your opinion of President Trump and his policies?

A: “I work with President Trump and his administration on important issues for our district, as I have with every administration. The president has been a partner in our efforts to combat the opioid crisis, reform federal forest policy to reduce wildfires, and, most importantly, get our veterans better access to care at the Veterans Administration. I also support his economic policy to provide tax relief to middle class families in Oregon and reduce onerous regulations that burdened small businesses.”

Q: Do you plan to support President Trump’s re-election in 2020?

A: “Yes. President Trump won election in the 2nd District by 20 points, carrying Deschutes County and 18 of the other 19 counties. And while I wince at some of the tweets and comments, he has delivered on tax cuts, jobs growth, regulatory relief and support for our veterans and the men and women who wear our nation’s uniform. He’s getting results on trade and puts American jobs first. He supports reforms of forest management to reduce wildfires, and he backs our farm and ranching way of life.”

Q: You won election to an 11th term. However, Republicans statewide suffered major losses. Some Oregon Republicans want the party to appeal to the large group of nonaffiliated voters seen as centrist. Others want it to become more conservative and pro-Trump. What’s your opinion on next steps for the Oregon GOP?

A: “The best course for Oregon Republicans is the best course for all elected officeholders — listen to the people you represent and advocate for public policy that addresses the needs of their communities. Oregonians will not be well-served by endless tax increases, irresponsible spending, and broader restrictions on individual liberties that a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature is already trying to implement. Oregon Republicans should articulate that to the people they represent and propose alternative ideas that will move the state in a better direction.

Q: A lot of the debate over your positions have focused on national issues such as tax cuts and health care. What specific efforts have you made to benefit the part of Oregon you represent?

A: We reauthorized the Brownfields Program on a broad bipartisan vote, which turns industrial sites like the lumber mill that is now the Old Mill District in Bend back into active use. We passed legislation to modernize the program used to keep our drinking water safe here in Oregon, including the water fountains in our public schools. And we passed legislation to boost development of renewable hydropower, which generates 43 percent of the electricity in our state. In fact, the legislation we passed into law will help promote hydropower projects like the one used by Central Oregon Irrigation District to generate power and conserve water to benefit farmers and fish. While these efforts may not have received wide national attention because they were not contentious political fights, these successful bipartisan efforts greatly benefit Oregonians.

Q: Fire remains a major concern in Central Oregon, especially after last summer’s blazes. What’s going on to get federal help on the issue?

A: “I will continue my work this Congress to improve forest management to protect people and property from wildfire in Oregon, and reduce the smoke that chokes our communities each summer. I will also continue to work to pass the Crooked River Ranch Fire Protection Act into law. This legislation passed the House unanimously last year, and provides commonsense fire protections for the people living at Crooked River Ranch to prevent (it) from becoming the next Paradise, California.”

Q: How is a town hall in Bend different from town halls in other locales in your district?

A: “Every community across our district faces unique challenges, and the people are concerned about different issues. The town hall in Bend will surely focus on issues that are somewhat different from my town halls in John Day, Klamath Falls, or Grants Pass. I look forward to a discussion on the local matters facing the community in Bend and hearing the concerns and suggestions about the big issues facing our state and country.”

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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