Thank you Congressman Greg Walden for your service to our state and for being so nice.
I sat down, virtually via Zoom, with Congressman Greg Walden, a year to the day after he declared that he would not seek re-election to thank him for his service and ask him a few questions about what it has been like for him during the last year in office.
Greg serves as the only Republican serving the state of Oregon federally and that’s a good thing.
We have Republicans and Democrats in our state and it’s good that we have both parties represented at the federal level.
I made the decision to do this article back when the other Greg, Greg Henderson, retired from the Southern Oregon Business Journal and I did a thank you Greg issue. I thought about Congressman Greg Walden and wanted to do at least an article.
During these times, when we are so polarized as a nation and are trained to hate and distrust all politicians, especially the ones from the other side, I worry about the future. I hope that people from both sides of the aisle read this and can appreciate the kind, business minded person that ran for office decades ago and won and has spent the largest part of his life, serving and running every two years and winning, so that he could continue to serve again and again.
“It doesn’t cost you anymore to be nice”, speaker John Boehner used to say, Greg shared with me during our conversation.
The word nice is how I would describe Greg.
I want our leaders to be smart, charismatic, strong, passionate and very nice, just like Greg.
There will be many stories told about him and his career, now that he is retiring. I wanted this one to be different.
I first met Greg when he was running for congress back in 1998. It was a blistering hot day at the Jackson County Fair and I was running the Technology Pavilion as an all day, everyday volunteer. We chatted a bit and his nice demeanor came through. I appreciated his willingness to meet with “the people” at the county fair and I voted for him. So did a lot of other people. He won.
I ran into him two years later, again at the county fair. This time he was sitting in the air conditioned VIP room, drinking a cold water and taking a breather. He was reading and I re-introduced myself and we shook hands. I thanked him for his service and that year I voted for him again.
Our relationship was like this for years and years.
One day, I was in Washington DC as a keynote speaker at a conference and I had a free day so I made appointments with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Congressmen Greg Walden’s offices. Senator Wyden was unavailable, but I met with his staffer and told him to thank Senator Wyden for his service and to keep doing a great job for Oregon. Next, I headed to Greg Walden’s office and met with his staffer and told him the same thing and he asked if I would like to tell Greg in person. I was excited to be escorted to the steps at the capital after a personal behind the scenes tour, to meet personally with Congressman Walden. He came out between votes and said hello.
I thanked Greg for his service and we shook hands and his staffer took a photo. We laughed as we remembered all those handshakes at all those county fairs over the years. I remember getting that photo in the mail a few weeks later and feeling proud to be an American. I’m just a small business person, in a small town in Oregon standing on the steps of our nation’s capital with an elected official and it was cool. I framed the photo and it still sits on my desk at the office, reminding me that good, kind, smart people do serve in DC regardless of what we are told to believe.
Greg’s dad served our state in the Oregon Legislature for 3 terms, so Greg grew up around politicians and politics. He and his wife, Mylene, bought his dad’s radio station and grew it to five stations over the 22 years they ran it. They were the owners and operators, just like Dena and I. He and his wife did everything from sales, reading the weather and the news, to hiring people. They ended up selling the radio stations when Greg went to DC, so that he could focus on his new career, but everything he learned about owning a business would carry forward with him as he served. Greg joked with me that the only thing he didn’t do was climb towers.
Small business owners risk it all to chase a dream. 50% of them fail in the first 4 years, according to a statistic for a different article in the journal.
They face competition and regulation on top of everything they do. Greg remembered his challenges and when given a chance, he worked hard in DC to change policy or create policy to make it easier and more fair for all small business owners. He shared with me how much he appreciates the small business owner for taking risks while care of their employees and their community.
One small business industry that was emerging in Oregon was small craft brewing. Greg and Peter DeFazio started the Oregon Small Brewers Caucus in 2007 and the brewers came to DC once a year and hosted a gathering to let the law makers sample Oregon Beer and share with them the issues they faced as they tried to grow a new industry.
Greg also served on a bank board and hospital board and he remembered how he realized that the regulation he felt as a small business owner of radio stations paled in comparison to the amount of regulation banks and hospitals face everyday.
If you look at a map of the Oregon District 2 that Greg represents you would notice that it’s a huge district that spans most of the state. He worked hard to hold as many “town halls” as he could, at least once in each county, once a year. He would share what he was working on and give the citizens in each county a chance to share what they wanted him to work on.
Year after year, county after county, he did this. He once had 3,000 in attendance in Bend but most were small intimate gatherings of business leaders and chamber executives, ranchers and farmers. Attendance was in direct correlation to what they were fired up about.
Oregon is changing
Sadly some people are leaving Oregon to Idaho and Nevada, because they want to be around other like minded people. Greg worries about this and told me that “Oregon should always be comfortable, we should be inclusive and multicultural, we should be all those things”
The cynicism of America’s young voters
There is something about the 30 something voter. They are more cynical about politics. Social platform algorithms divide us. News channels are now like music formats. Radio stations have to have different kinds of music for different kinds of folks, to be successful. That is happening with news. They talk to their followers with the same beliefs. This further divides us.
Trump becomes president
I asked Greg what that was like in 2016, and he told me that it wasn’t supposed to happen. They didn’t see it happening and were just as surprised as everyone else when they found out.
Trump and Bernie Sanders were the same model of candidate. Disruptive to the status quo. The voters wanted to disrupt politics as usual.
He has served under presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump and has good memories of them all. Each were different styles of leaders and each had their good points and bad points.
He told me that President Trump is a businessman and wants to get things done. He doesn’t care what side of the aisle you’re on, he just wants to get things done. One story Greg shared with me was of Greg mentioning something about federal regulation preventing good forest management in Eastern Oregon and President Trump said follow me into the Oval Office and let’s get this taken care of. At this point, Greg had to remind President Trump that there were channels to go through first. That decisive power was something that DC isn’t used to.
Greg made the announcement to not run for reelection in 2019, exactly 1 year from our interview date, and thought he would travel the state one last time while in office, visiting with every county and reminiscing about all the they got done together in his years in office. He thought he would shake hands with his friends and say goodbye in person.
But then COVID happened and everything changed. He installed zoom on his own laptop and taught himself to hold meetings remotely from his home in Hood River.
The lawmakers realized how what they thought was preparedness was not really going to work when an entire country had to go into lockdown. The supply chains were broken. Drugs come from China and India and India got most of their drugs from China. PPE was coming from Italy. As the world locked down, the supply chains broke.
I asked Greg, if any good will come from our COVID experience and he said that there is plenty of good. American ingenuity in how we tackle the problem was visible throughout the crisis. Instead of the same blue masks the rest of the world used, we sewed our own. One woman in Klamath Falls made 10,000 masks.
We advanced 10 years of technology adoption into one.
We learned a lot and the lawmakers will have to come across the aisle to work on these supply chain issues.
He and his wife bought eBikes and are dusting off the pickup and travel trailer and want to use their kayaks on lakes as they travel the country and relax.
Home will always be in Hood River and they look forward to the next chapter in life.
Hopefully when COVID is behind us and we can all meet again in person, Greg and his wife will end up at the Jackson County Fair where I’ll still be an all day, everyday volunteer and we will shake hands and I can say “thank you for your service and thank you for being so nice” one last time, in person.
By Jim Teece
Publisher of the Southern Oregon Business Journal