Ontario lawyer Cliff Bentz has some big shoes to fill.
The newly elected congressman — who will replace longtime Hood River lawmaker Greg Walden — steps into the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress at a key point in history. The nation is still locked in a deadly pandemic while many congressional GOP lawmakers are openly proclaiming they will work to revoke Joe Biden’s victory over President Trump.
Bentz, a staunch Republican with a long political history in the Oregon House and Senate, won his seat by 25%, a sure indication that most voters on the eastern side of the state believe he can make a difference.
Bentz probably will not be able to become a political powerhouse his first term. Freshman congressmen and women face an array of hurdles — mainly inexperience at the federal level — to be able to make a big impact right off.
Still, Bentz will be in a good position to do what remains the most important part of his job: look out for the interests of the Oregonians he represents.
That, by itself, isn’t an easy job. Still, the big issues for Oregonians in his district — which includes all of Eastern Oregon — remain stable. Access to and protection of natural resources and careful, but continued, use of water in our region. Preservation and expansion of existing infrastructure across the region, such as better roads, highways and internet access, should also be an important topic for the first-term congressman.
Eastern Oregon also needs help economically, but not with pie-in-the-sky concepts that only benefit the few. The eastern portion of the state has continued to lag behind the rest of Oregon in the years after the Great Recession and the pandemic has only made things worse. Since 2014, and up to the pandemic, large parts of the state enjoyed a relative period of economic growth, but in rural Oregon the recovery from the recession lagged significantly.
No one, of course, expects Bentz to work miracles. Instead we hope the first-term congressional lawmaker can do what he can, what is reasonable and obtainable, to help voters. He will be shackled, to some extent, by his Republican Party overlords but he can do good things.
He will face, in the end, a choice between joining the shrill voices of discontent or of buckling down and working on issues that will impact people in Eastern Oregon.
We believe Bentz is not just another politician, but a lawmaker with a bright future in Congress.