Editor's Notebook: Missing in person, Walden’s silent consent no friend to Hood River

Ballots are due by Nov. 6. Statistically, many voters have cast their ballots already.

For undecideds who have not yet cast their ballots for the Nov. 6 election, there is time still to consider a vote for Jamie McLeod-Skinner, the Terrebonne Democrat challenging Republican Greg Walden, 18-year Congressional veteran.


Jamie McLeod-Skinner

She has ideas and energy, has clearly listened to the people of Dist. 2 in her thousands of miles of travels in the past two years, and will be a quick study once elected. She brings a level of compassion that has been missing in Dist. 2 leadership in recent years.

Walden is a good man but, in recent years, he has repeatedly shown his dedication foremost to his party. Walden has been a virtual stranger to anyone who is not a partisan supporter or donor to his campaign. He put a revisionist “town hall” tag on a February gathering in Condon that was intended as a private meeting until locals got wind of his presence and forced him to hold a public meeting.

(So much for public notification; the local newspaper was not even informed.)

He sends out numerous press releases about pending, and sometimes completed, legislation and invites the media to events of his choosing, but ignores just about anything else — including attempts by constituents to contact him.

While he has accomplished good things (and the opioid legislation signed into law this week is one recent example of that) it feels like Walden has forgotten who he really works for.

It is instructive to look at what the Congressman said he would do, and then did not do, on April 8, 2017, the last time he held a town hall meeting in Hood River County.

True, it turned out to be a raucous event, fueled largely by Walden’s repeated unwillingness to answer direct questions. People responded, often loudly, and now his supporters point to the “unfair treatment” as justification for avoiding public appearances where he should stand as a man and a leader and hear what people have to say. Writers of at least two of the newspaper endorsements for Walden serve as apologists for Walden breaking his yearly-town-hall vow, citing the harsh audience response to Walden’s evasive, obfuscative responses.

At that April 2017 town hall, Walden stood in front of hundreds of people at Hood River Middle School and vowed not only to hold another town hall in 2018 (none has been scheduled) but when citizens presented him a box of letters about immigration reform, he said, “We will read these and respond.”

We have no way of knowing if Walden read or responded to the letters, but we know that he never responded to the group that sponsored the box; an Indivisible Hood River spokeswoman confirmed Thursday they never heard from him.

It’s sadly in line with what many constituents in Hood River County report is a pattern: Telephone calls and emails that go unanswered and ignored.

We have heard it dozens of times for years. I’ve mentioned this directly to Walden and his reaction was a combination of confusion and unconcern.

Most recently, Walden’ office ignored repeated contacts from Gorge Ecumenical Ministry to attend its Oct. 16 forum in Hood River. As reported in the Hood River News, Walden’s office cited a scheduling commitment in Klamath Falls that day, but the more cogent fact is that neither Walden, nor his employees, bothered to answer emails and a posted letter asking him to attend. What we have is a community group, acting in good faith, denied the courtesy of a response to varied communications asking the Congressman to show up.

The Hood River News itself has experienced a pattern of non-response stretching at least three years; until this week, the only time Walden has responded to a request to talk to a reporter in the past two years was in April 2018, when this newspaper was invited to a drug take-back day event — in White Salmon, Wash.

Walden reacted angrily when he was asked at that event if the fact he had not scheduled a 2018 town hall in Hood River was a reflection of his belief that Hood River County was electorally non-winnable for him.

“Ohhh, Kirby. Really?” he said, walking away and effectively ending the interview. Eight months later, despite repeated requests from the media and constituents, still no town hall. If Walden is that thin-skinned about being asked about what is a standard political strategy — focus your energy and money on keeping the votes you know you have — how sensitive is he to criticism in general?

Until Wednesday, Walden’s office did not respond to repeated requests, beginning in September, for a one-on-one interview with this newspaper; the interview was intended to take place in a timely manner with the election campaign. (McLeod-Skinner spoke with Hood River News on Oct. 11.) The latest request came Wednesday, directly on the heels of a telephone conference call this newspaper attended, at Walden’s invitation. Walden will not be available to talk until Nov. 1, five days before the election.

Notably, in trying to depict himself as open and accessible, Walden cites the infrequent telephone town halls as an example of his hearing from the community; while these calls are certainly a positive thing, they are closed-circuit events you have to call into and stay on the line.

Further, in 2017 Walden bragged that he is “in the room” with President Trump, implying that he might have some influence on the then-new president, but it is clear after nearly two years of the Trump administration that Walden is unwilling to stand up to the president, to the point of crafting legislation that even Trump called “mean,” the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. Walden is proud of that accomplishment, rather like a chef who cooked the roast to point of burning it.

“Silence is consent,” goes the phrase urging voters to cast their ballots. Walden has been virtually silent to Hood River constituents, and has provided this caustic and unprincipled president unwavering, uncritical consent.

In this reporter’s opinion, that flies in the face of the wishes and feelings of Hood River County residents.

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