Longtime U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s only Republican member of Congress, announced Monday he will retire at the end of his 11th term in 2021.
In a video statement, Walden, 62, said that while he was confident he could win re-election again in 2020, “I also know that for me, the time has come to pursue new challenges and opportunities.
“So, I will not seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives,” Walden said, “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 was first elected in 1998 to represent Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, encompassing largely rural and agricultural areas of Central and Eastern Oregon. At 69,491 square miles, the district covers about 70% of the state’s total area, but includes just 18% of its total population with 770,403 people.
Having grown up on a cherry orchard in The Dalles, Walden said rural Oregon values “run deeply in my veins.” He pointed to efforts to improve forest health, lower the risk of large wildfires and expand rural broadband internet to some of Oregon’s most isolated communities as issues he’s championed.
Walden is the former chairman, and now top Republican, in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He also served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1989 to 1995 and state Senate from 1995 to 1997.
“At the end of this term, I will have devoted 30 years to the important calling of public service,” he said, “of helping bring people together to solve problems and leave our communities, our beautiful state and our great nation better off for the next generation.”
Walden said he is optimistic that a path exists for Republicans to recapture a majority in the U.S. House. State Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, has already announced he will run for Walden’s congressional seat. Former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler, of Bend, has also said he is considering a run.
Members of Oregon’s farming and ranching industries were quick to praise Walden upon hearing news of his retirement.
Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said Walden has been a go-to resource in Washington, D.C., for issues ranging from public lands grazing to international trade.
“He’s been excellent to work with at all times,” Rosa said. “Whenever we are back in D.C., he always makes time to meet with us and discuss issues with us personally.”
Apart from ranching, Rosa said Walden supports all facets of life in rural Oregon, where some cattlemen live and work 40 miles from the nearest paved road — let alone the nearest town.
“Greg understands the issues in Jordan Valley just as well as he understands the issues in Portland,” Rosa said. “He represents Eastern Oregon, and Eastern Oregon is the heart of our organization.”
Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association, said Walden has been instrumental to the needs of the region’s agriculture. For example, Skeen said Walden helped in 2013 to fight back against proposed water quality standards under the Food Safety Modernization Act that producers worried they could not meet.
Research by the Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station in Ontario showed there was no risk of E. coli in dry bulb onions from local irrigation water supplies.
“I knew (Walden) would be on our side in almost everything we had to do,” Skeen said. “He was quick to do whatever we needed. That doesn’t always happen.”
Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League and Oregon Wheat Commission, said Walden has been a staunch advocate for the industry on trade issues. Most of the state’s 763,000 wheat acres are grown in Walden’s district, and more than 85% of the crop is exported.
Walden was also there, along with the entire Oregon congressional delegation, to help wheat growers in Wasco and Sherman counties recover from a series of wildfires in 2018 that burned tens of thousands of acres of cropland, Rowe said. They urged the USDA to approve both emergency grazing for cattlemen, as well as allow wheat farmers to plant cover crops without affecting their crop insurance.
“He was always somebody we could sit down and work with across a whole broad range of issues,” Rowe said of Walden. “We’ll miss him.”
Gail Greenman, director of national affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau, described Walden as approachable and accessible, with a good understanding of the state’s agricultural diversity — from dryland wheat and cattle to irrigated fruits and vegetables.
Over the years, Greenman said the Farm Bureau worked closely with Walden on much-needed reforms to the H-2A guestworker program, which allows farms to bring in workers from outside the country on temporary visas, as well as tax, trade and natural resources management at the federal level.
“The time and dedication that he’s not only given to us as farmers and ranchers, but all Oregonians, is truly appreciated and will be very much missed,” Greenman said. “We’re so thankful for the years that he gave us.”