Where's Walden

Union County residents express various concerns over perceived lack of accessibility

By Emily Adair, The La Grande Observer

Finding Rep. Greg Walden’s office covered with petitions and letters may now be a common sight for

La Grande residents who frequent the sidewalk along Washington Avenue. A group of local citizens said they’ve been trying to talk to Walden for about seven weeks and have been so far unsuccessful.

“We are his constituents and believe he is unable to represent us without listening to our concerns,” Cheryl Simpson, of the Union County Progressives, wrote in a letter to Walden Field Representative Jorden Noyes.

The letter, dated March 10, requested a town hall meeting with Walden, R-Hood River, who serves as the United States representative from Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which encompasses the eastern two-thirds of Oregon. Simpson wrote that this was a follow-up letter to previous requests to meet with Walden.

“Representative Walden’s constituents have requested a town hall meeting in La Grande but have received no response to our request,” Simpson wrote.

Simpson said she has, however, had opportunities to speak to Noyes in person on multiple occasions.

The March 10 letter followed a Feb. 20 email sent by Bill Whitaker, another member of UCP, inviting Walden to a rally in support of health care on Feb. 25. Noyes informed Simpson and Whitaker ahead of time that Walden would not be able to attend, Malcolm said. Simpson confirmed that she and Whitaker knew Walden would not be present.

But what’s especially frustrating, according to Simpson, is that Walden’s staff hasn’t arranged a separate conversation between the congressman and the UCP.

“He hasn’t provided an alternate time that he would be available to meet with us,” Simpson said.

Walden was in town earlier that week and made a presentation to the La Grande Rotary Club on Feb. 21. Walden’s Deputy Chief of Staff Andrew Malcolm said Walden was invited to meet with the Rotary while he was in La Grande.

Malcolm also said Walden’s staff is currently putting together a town hall in Union County.

“We hold one in every county at least once a year,” he said.

Walden held town halls in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties Feb. 20-22. His last town hall in Wallowa County was April 2, 2016, in Enterprise. The last public event Walden had in Union County was a round table discussion Feb. 2, 2016, in La Grande. He did, however, hold a telephone town hall on Feb. 6 from his office in Washington D.C., which was his first of 2017.

Malcolm said the UCP’s assertions that Walden spends little time in his office during his visits were accurate.

“He spends most of the time out in meetings around the county,” he said.

Walden serves 20 counties in his district, the seventh largest district in the nation. Malcolm said that Walden’s staff works diligently to respond to messages received over email, phone, Facebook, Twitter, fax and so on.

“We have responded to several thousand so far this year, and (Walden) is constantly receiving reports about the different messages that have come in,” Malcolm said.

Still, the Union County residents who have voiced concerns about Walden’s inaccessibility are not alone.

Similar gatherings have been reported across the district, including in Deschutes and Jackson counties, where Walden has offices. Walden’s office in Bend has seen “Where’s Walden?” rallies on six consecutive Tuesdays. The fourth Bend rally was “met with an organized counter-protest,” according to a press release for the rally.

Walden has served Congressional District 2 since 1999. He was re-elected to his seat last year with 71.9 percent of the vote. Hood River County was the only county in his district that saw a Democratic win in the presidential race at that time. The 19 others voted Republican.

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The La Grande Observer
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