Rep. Greg Walden has taken a lot of heat recently for allegedly choosing to lie low. His detractors have enjoyed playing the "Where's Walden?" wordplay game as the congressman had seemingly stopped holding public forums. He hadn't held such a forum in the district largest city, Bend, since 2013.
The heat only turned higher when Walden did hold some public events earlier this year -- but in such hotbeds of activity and diverse thought as Mitchell, Monument, Mt. Vernon and Arlington.
That ends this week, though, as Walden is holding public forums in, along with Prineville, the relative urban centers of the district: Bend, The Dalles, Hood River and Medford. Good.
Certainly Walden has been as busy as everyone in Congress. He has moved up the Republican ranks in the House, is chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and played a key role in the recent health care repeal/replace attempt. Suffice to say that he's been busy. But certainly he's had to time to catch media coverage of other GOP office-holders getting lambasted at public forums in their districts, as the liberal/progressive populations apply the lessons learned from the Tea Party/conservative movement in 2009 as they targeted President Obama : be unified and attack incumbent office-holders connected by party to the president and his policies that you abhor. Many of Walden's detractors contend he's simply been trying to avoid a similar scene.
It's quite likely that his meeting in Bend – at Mountain View High School Thursday evening at 5 p.m. – will be more heated than his 8:30 a.m. meeting in Prineville that morning. How fired up can one be at 8:30 a.m., even if they wanted to be? Bend, meanwhile, presents a different picture. Recently, there has been active street demonstrations in Bend to highlight the time expanse between Walden forums in that city.
It isn't like Walden hasn't been coming to our communities. He contends he holds a public forum in every county in his district each year, but in different communities within those counties. But it's also fair to say his non-forum visits have become more orchestrated, and less open. Instead of a public forum at a high school, the Congressman might have a quickly arranged lunch with a service club, or a meeting with local government officials. We applaud Walden -- or for that matter anyone from Washington or Salem – coming to town and visiting with a local service club, and certainly to take some closed-door time with local officials to discuss local problems/issues. That's vital and has led to quality outcomes (Walden's key role with the Bowman Bill, for instance), and is arguably more important than open forum.
But semi-private meeting with clubs and closed-door meetings with local government do not take the place of open public forums, or banish the need for them public forums.
Being the Republican congressman from Oregon's Second District is the next thing to a lifetime appointment. Walden certainly knows that, and avoiding potentially uncomfortable situations is only human. But kudos to Walden for stepping into a potential Central Oregon wildfire Thursday, to acknowledge that going face to face with often loud factions that disagree with you is part of the job.
Sens. Merkley and Wyden did it in 2009-10, and survived. Walden will too, and be a better congressman for it.