By Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain
Twenty years ago, when Greg Walden was in the Oregon Legislature, he was viewed as a moderate Republican. He would, depending on the issue, vote for pro-worker legislation. I found him to be honest, fair and willing to listen to arguments on both sides of the legislation before deciding.
After 18 years in Congress, he has climbed the rungs of the Congressional Republican leadership ladder. U.S. Rep. Walden served two terms as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The role of the committee is to elect Republican candidates to the United States House of Representatives. There is little doubt that Congressman Walden is a competent leader, and over the course of his two terms has maintained historic Republican majorities. He stepped down from this position when he was elected to chair the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Along Walden’s path to the chairmanship he moved further and further to the right. Republican House Members have voted 54 times to repeal or defund Obamacare, and Walden has voted “yes” to repeal every single time. As chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Walden was a strong supporter of the American Health Care Act (Trumpcare), which would replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). If passed, the AHCA would have denied benefits to 24 million Americans and would have given a back-door tax cut to wealthy Americans of $600 million. The AHCA did pass out of Walden’s committee but never received a floor vote due to lack of support from the Republican Caucus.
During the February Congressional recess, Republican representatives held town halls in their districts. Their town halls were packed with dissatisfied citizens who were opposed to the repeal of Obamacare. Congressman Walden chose not to have town halls during this recess.
A week ago, Rep. Walden announced that he would hold town halls throughout his district the week of April 10. This is a surprising move by the Congressman, since he hasn’t held a town hall since 2013 in some parts of his district.
Some 600 people attended the town hall in The Dalles, 1,000 turned out in Hood River, 600 in Prineville, 3,000 in Bend, 700 in Grants Pass and 1,000 in Medford. The town halls were scheduled to be two hours, but often stretched into three- and four-hour sessions of Oregonians voicing their dissatisfaction with Congressman Walden’s position on health care, tax reform, immigration, and a host of other issues. One woman stated that she had voted for Walden in every election because she believed he was a moderate, and now understands he has moved too far right and will not receive her vote again.
My hat is off to the congressman for having the courage to attend the town halls, giving Oregonians time to voice their grievances. But his rise to power in the Republican Party has pulled him further and further away from the center, where his constituents are. His town hall attendance approaching 7,000 should give the Congressman pause. For years, he has operated under the radar, receiving 60-65 percent of the vote in his elections. His continued support of President Trump and an ultra-conservative agenda may just create an opening for an upset in 2018 or 2020.
This week’s town halls leads one to believe that Oregon, like the rest of America, isn’t hard right or left but in the middle. A moderate candidate with a strong middle-class economic message could give Congressman Walden a difficult time in his re-election bid.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 130,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.