SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Rep. Greg Walden, the lone Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation, won’t seek reelection to a 12th term, throwing a huge district covering a conservative part of the state up for grabs.
With less than seven months to go before the 2020 primaries, Walden’s videotaped announcement on Monday sets up further changes in the U.S. House of Representatives, which Democrats regained control of in the 2018 midterm elections.
Walden is the 19th House Republican to announce he or she will not seek re-election. Three other GOP lawmakers have resigned.
Walden is a former chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and now serves as the top Republican on the energy panel. He was a key player in GOP efforts to replace President Barack Obama’s health care law but was considered a moderate by many.
The resignation also injected drama into Oregon politics, with the race for secretary of state having been considered the most compelling. One of the Democratic candidates for secretary of state, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, had run against Walden in 2018.
She was considering her options in light of Walden’s announcement. It was unclear who would run on the GOP side for Walden’s seat. The announcement took many Republicans in the state by surprise.
“Everyone knew he would retire at some point, but the exact timing was a surprise,” said Bend’s Jeff Eager, a former legislative assistant and press secretary for Walden during his first term in D.C.
Eager describes Walden not seeking reelection as a “huge loss” for Central Oregon.
“He’s gotten a lot of things done for our area in Washington D.C., so we’ll be losing that skill, that seniority, and someone who has really worked tirelessly for the people of the 2nd District,” Eager said.
Walden said he is confident he could have won the next election based on recent polling and strong fundraising. But he said he will instead pursue new challenges and opportunities.
Walden, 62, did not specify what he wants to do next, but it won’t be running for a different political office.
“I will not seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives, nor election to any other office, but instead I will close the public service chapter of my life, thankful for the friends I’ve made and the successful work we’ve done together,” Walden said. He addressed the camera from the deck of a home with a backdrop of tall fir trees.
Walden is a former radio station owner and was first elected to represent Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District in 1998. The district of 70,000-square-miles (180,000-square-kilometers) covers high desert, mountains and forests and is the second-biggest in America among states with multiple districts. Far from the liberal Portland metro area, the district voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump in 2016.
Walden likely would have had an easy path to re-election, though parts of the district, like the outdoorsy retirement mecca of Bend, have become more liberal.
A town hall that Walden staged in Bend, in 2017, became raucous as constituents packed into a high school gymnasium clashed with him on issues like gun control, health care, immigration and the environment. Walden told the town hall he was not a climate change denier and that he supports renewable energy. But he took flack for backing construction of a pipeline was halted amid protests in the Obama administration, but later approved by Trump.
Walden grew up on a cherry orchard and is from Hood River, a town along the scenic banks of the Columbia River.
Like Bend, the demographics of surrounding Hood River County have also been changing. In the 2008 election, Walden won almost double the votes in the county as his Democratic challenger.
In 2018, McLeod-Skinner — who ran a tireless campaign, touring the vast district in a Jeep pulling a teardrop trailer that she slept in — turned the tables and received 6,735 votes in Hood River County compared with 3,578 for Walden.
“Walden’s decision not to seek reelection demonstrates the power of our efforts last year to flip the House and establish accountability,” McLeod-Skinner said in a telephone interview. “Since his statement, I’ve received a lot of calls, and I’m going to take a little time to return them.”
The Oregon Farm Bureau on Monday called Walden a “stalwart champion for Oregon agriculture.”
Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, said he was honored to represent Oregon alongside Walden. He was “always working to promote bipartisanship and fairness,” Schrader said.