Three clear outcomes from the Nov. 6 House District 2 race:
First, Greg Walden won the district election hands-down. Again. His 56.4 to 39.17 percent margin over Democrat challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner was a wide one, though notably the Hood River County vote split was 63.44 to 33.95 percent.
Second, McLeod-Skinner deserves praise for a campaign well-fought, with her message of government as compassionate stewards. She traveled, she listened, she learned. After a long string of Democrats taking on Walden, this the first time we can say the challenger deserves the right to try again in two years.
Third, Greg Walden has a lot of explaining to do.
Hood River County voters should hold the Congressman accountable for violating a long-held promise, one he blithely brushed aside two weeks ago in an interview with this newspaper. Asked about his failure to schedule a Hood River County town hall, as he had promised to do, he stated that “the town halls were being weaponized by the Indivisible and Resistance movements” and when pressed about not scheduling one here, he replied, “I changed my mind.”
At best, this is specious and hyper-convenient. A promise is a promise. Walden doesn’t make that many promises. He works hard, and talks about issues and general goals he will pursue. He frequently tells us about legislation he sponsors or supports.
But we are hard-pressed to recall a time when he vowed to do any specific thing. That’s smart politics.
But he is repeatedly on record saying he would hold a town hall in every county in his district, at least once a year.
April 8, 2017, remember? It almost has that “Yeah, I Was There!” aspect now.
Keeping promises is also smart politics.
Walden needs to answer to his characterization of his constituents’ behavior in that April 2017 session: “Weaponized” is how he termed the town halls of 2017 in deciding “I changed my mind’ when asked about his failure to fulfill his promise to hold a town hall in Hood River County this year.
He doubled down this week by using the word “anarchy” to describe the town halls, in an interview with The Dalles Chronicle (republished starting on page A1 of this edition).
The Congressman should know that anarchy is a very different thing than having to answer to highly vocal and, yes, rude, at times, citizens who had, for the most part, civilly but pointedly asked for answers. Then did not get them.
Further, in using words such as “weaponizing” and perpetuating canards such as “anarchy,” he is in the same breath decrying divisiveness and encouraging it.
People loudly demanding that their concerns and questions be duly honored, and not belittled and ignored, is not anarchy. It is democracy.
(Walden did not reply to requests for comment.)
Two things need to be brought up about Greg Walden’s town halls:
First: Prior to 2017 they were always collegial and friendly, with a few scattered partisan questions. Walden got used to the casual and familiar in his yearly visits to his home county.
Second: 2016 happened, and when the 2017 town hall came along much had changed: The election of Donald Trump and the particular concern over issues of healthcare and immigration were much stronger and more urgent than ever. People came to his town hall expecting real answers, and Walden proved totally unprepared, or unwilling, to give that. It also revealed his complacency when it comes to Hood River County.
Second, Walden uses a cloying but effective technique in fielding questions at town halls: He commandeers the moment by making a comment about, or directing a question to, the questioner.
Over and over on April 8, 2017, people saw their opportunities to hear from their Congressman derailed by the tall, laconic guy with the microphone, who essentially ignored the question by changing the very nature of it. Walden is a master at changing the subject and ignoring the question. He often rephrases the question with ripostes such as “Well, the question you should be asking is …” or simply harkening back to how he answered the question at an earlier time, and then spinning off into a loosely related topic. And having done so, he can say “Well, it’s time to take the next question.”
Worse, he responds to many questions by pulling up an encyclopedic reference to proposed or passed legislation that might or might not have anything to do with the topic, and while he looks smart in referring to some peripheral legal or legislative point, it’s mainly a deft altering of the questioner’s intended context.
And as all of this happened, the public on April 8, 2017 began to get fed up with his avuncular evasions and professorial side-steps, and they began to shout back at him, “Just answer the question!”
So, with the election over and two more years of Greg Walden ahead, we are left with the memory of The Last Time We Saw Him. When will we see him again? Does he expect coffee shop camaraderie or the demands of the democratic forum?
Greg Walden must be called upon to directly answer to balding backing out of a promise — in an election year, when the people most needed to hear and be heard.
Were there provocative moments in that April 2017 town hall, when Walden did have to ask for quiet? Did it get raucous? Yes, but what Walden chooses to ignore is that he boiled his own coffee grounds that day. Do that and you’re bound to taste the bitter.