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Walden working to achieve GOP goals

 Bloomberg News Service, Herald and News 11/13/10
< Bloomberg photo

   Rep. Greg Walden, a six-term Republican, tackles every thankless task assigned by House Minority Leader John Boehner.

WASHINGTON — In Boehner-Land, the constellation of loyalists and associates surrounding the soon-to-be House speaker, Rep. Greg Walden has become the indispensable jack-of-all-trades.

   A former radio station owner from the high desert plateau of Eastern Oregon, the six-term Republican tackles every thankless task assigned by House Minority Leader John Boehner with the precision that he learned as an Eagle Scout.

   Walden’s latest assignment: to oversee his party’s transition to the majority — and to somehow translate its campaign promises to reform the way Congress works to a practical rule book that, well, reforms the way Congress works.

   This is no sexy task. And it will not culminate in a landmark bill that bears Walden’s name. This is a matter of floor-vote calendars and committee-hearing schedules.  Should Congress stream live witness testimony and committee deliberations? Keep printing 200 copies of each amendment? Slash the money spent on the Capitol’s underground subway or guards or cafeteria cooks — or all of the above?

   “We often get hamstrung about what the existing structure is,” Walden, 53, said in an interview this week.

   “ ‘Well, we can’t do that because we have a rule.’ Um, guys, we write the rules. Think outside the box. If you were designing this institution starting today, how would you design it? What works?   What doesn’t? And how would you do it better?”

   These are the weighty concerns that have consumed Walden’s life since last week’s elections. When Boehner, Ohio, is installed as House speaker on Jan. 5, his regime will assume control not only of the rules that govern the House, but also the shared responsibility with the Democrat-controlled Senate of the vast operations of the Capitol complex.  

   It falls to Walden’s 22-member transition committee to determine what will change — and quickly, since the new rules would go into effect in January. This week, Walden led days of meetings, seeking ways to trim the size and expense of a bureaucracy that many Republicans derided on the campaign trail as bloated.

   The committee members also want to bring more transparency to House operations. What particularly rankled them, and many American voters, was the Democratic majority’s act of procedural jujitsu in pushing through the health-care overhaul this spring.  

   Walden is hardly considered a partisan bombthrower, but he is a reliable conservative, and he acknowledged that he grew agitated during that debate. In March, he and a handful of Republican colleagues stood over the Capitol balcony holding up signs that spelled “K-I-L-L T-H-E B-I-L-L,” stoking a Tea Party protest.

   “That really put me over the top, just to say, ‘Enough! Enough!’ ” Walden said. “This is not how the people’s business should be conducted.”  

   Best man for the job

  Bloomberg News Service photo

   Oregon Rep. Greg Walden’s latest assignment is to oversee the Republican party’s transition to the majority — and to reform the way Congress works.

   Republican leaders say that no other lawmaker is better suited than Walden to make the changes.

   “He’s been kind of my go-to guy here over the last year, and everything I’ve given him, he’s done a great job,” Boehner said.

   Walden is among about two dozen key advisers who make up Boehner’s inner circle. At its core are several veteran staffers, as well as a handful of GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Latham, Iowa, and Sen. Richard Burr, N.C.  

   Sometimes dubbed “BoehnerLand,” this orbit also makes up Boehner’s social network — his golf buddies and steakhouse companions — and includes some former aides who are now lobbyists.

   This fall, as Walden cruised toward reelection and was preparing for his victory party with supporters in Medford, Boehner gave him a call. Boehner knew Republicans had a good chance of winning control of the House, and he asked Walden to chair his transition committee — and to be in Washington on election night.

   “You’re not supposed to ‘measure the drapes’ ahead of time; however, if you win, you’re supposed to be ready to govern the next day,” Walden said. “So there’s this interesting kabuki dance you do.”  

   Celebrating victory

   So Walden ditched his own party to emcee Boehner’s celebration at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill. (He addressed his Oregon supporters via Skype, celebrating through a laptop camera with Boehner at his side.)

   By 10 the next morning, a transition office had been assembled in the Capitol basement with phones, computers, desks and the GOP’s “Pledge to America” pasted on a freshly painted white wall. Walden’s wife, Mylene, helped answer the phones before a full staff was in place.

   “There’s this interesting switch that gets flipped, and the campaign   warfare has to stop and the governing has to start,” Walden said. “You have to have that mental ability to pivot instantly, because if you keep up the campaign rhetoric, then you’re a bad winner or loser. You park the weaponry of political campaigns and you govern.”

   Walden said he is trying to put practicality above partisanship — which has not gone unnoticed by Democrats.

   “He takes the institution and the job very seriously,” said outgoing Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., whose office is across the hall from Walden’s. “He’s a man of complete integrity ...   They didn’t have to put someone like that in that position. They could’ve chosen someone who is a hardball, cut-throat political operative.”

   Walden has consulted some Democrats, even though they can’t set the rules anymore. Rep. Michael E. Capuano, DMass., who chaired his party’s 2006 transition, said he offered this wisdom to Walden: “The majority will not be the majority forever, and the majority should treat the minority as they would want to be treated when they’re in the minority.”  

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