Riley Bushue, Congressman Greg Walden’s aide in Union County, meets with “Occupy Congressional District 2” protesters at Walden’s regional office on Washington Avenue Monday. The protesters complained Walden is inaccessible to his constituents; Bushue countered that the congressman is committed to holding two meeting in each of the Second District’s 20 counties each year. Protesters in the picture are La Grande residents Rosemary Powers, left, and Sharon Evoy. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
A small group of protesters turned out at Max Square Monday to complain about the way U.S. Congressman Greg Walden interacts with constituents.
About 15 people, most above the age of 50, showed up in support of “Occupy Congressional District 2,” a rally taking place Monday in various towns in Walden’s sprawling bailiwick. Organizers are critical of Walden and his record in Congress.The main charge leveled against the congressman in Monday’s Max Square rally was that he is inaccessible.
“Our thought is to ask Greg Walden to be willing to hold a town hall during the congressional recess this month, and four more next year, and give us some notice,” said Glen Scheele, a member of the Union County Democrats and the leader of the local “Occupy” movement.
Scheele, who did most of the talking during the rally, said Walden’s visits are very unlike the town hall meetings held periodically by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats.
He claimed Walden holds his local meetings in a way that excludes the general public and discourages them from asking questions.
He brought up an “ice cream social” held at Max Square for Walden this summer. He said Walden was late for the event and didn’t spend much time listening to people.
“I had questions for him,” Scheele said. “He was two hours late and, by that time, the most committed had left. We got a lecture on how we need to dismantle Medicare to solve the federal debt.”
Scheele also was critical of an “electronic” town hall held earlier this year, saying prior notice for the teleconference event was inadequate.
“We are faced with our worst crisis since the economic depression, and we’re not getting the leadership and response we need,” Scheele said.
Not everybody attending Monday’s protest agreed that Walden ignores the public.
Local businessman Greg Baretto said he has been to various Walden meetings, found them “informative” and he believes people get ample opportunity to state opinions.
“After his meetings, he has question and answer sessions,” Baretto said, speaking directly to Scheele. “Do you go to those meetings? I’ve not seen you there.”
After some more debate with Baretto, Scheele called on the protesters to march on Walden’s local office on Washington Avenue.
There, they confronted the congressman’s aide, Riley Bushue. Bushue listened as the group’s demand for town hall meetings similar to Wyden’s and Merkley’s was repeated.
“While he (Walden) does come to the district, it’s not often to meet with constituents,” Scheele told Bushue.
Scheele criticized Walden’s habit of holding meetings in restaurants rather than in larger, more open venues.
“Let’s not confuse those with public meetings,” he said. “We want them to be open forums, not stump speeches with pre-approved questions from the floor.”
Bushue said all of Walden’s meetings are open to the public, and that people can ask whatever they want.
He also said Walden town hall meetings are scheduled in the near future at Rufus and Fossil, with more to be scheduled.
“He’ll continue to commit to having two meetings in every county,” Bushue said.
In an email to The Observer, the local political group Eastern Oregon Patriots defended Walden. While the group did not address the issue of whether Walden’s appearances are wide open, it said Walden does make frequent local appearances. It said he made four visits to Union County this year, six to Umatilla County, 12 to Deschutes County and 11 to Jackson County.
The group also said Walden uses “every possible medium” to make himself available to constituents, including face-to-face meetings, telephone, email and videoconference.