Oregon will continue to be governored by a Democrat as John Kitzhaber edged Chris Dudley by the narrowest of margins, thanks to voters in Portland. Umatilla County went for Chris Dudley by a two to one margin, as was the case in most rural counties.

He will return to the governor’s chair, however, with a House and Senate that are nearly evenly split.

Together with the Oregon lawmakers, Kitzhaber must now come to grips with a deficit estimated to be as high as $3 billion. Voters in Umatilla and Morrow counties sent Greg Smith and Bob Jensen, two veteran House legislators, back to represent them in this important work. Smith is considered an expert on the state budget while Jensen is the longest serving representative in the Oregon House. Both will play important roles in the coming financial decisions.

Nationally, the Republicans won big, sending a message that voters are frustrated by a huge federal deficit, a lack of jobs and a confusing reform of the health care system. It also seemed apparent in the early analysis that the big upswing in younger votes that helped propel President Barack Obama into office has fallen back. Millions of voters stayed away from the ballot box and those who did vote tended to be older.

The GOP sweep of the House of Representatives is big news to those of us in eastern part of the state. Rep. Greg Walden won his seventh term with the help of 78 percent of the voters in Umatilla County. Then Walden was asked by House Speaker-to-be John Boehner of Ohio to become “chief operating officer of the party’s transition to power.” In short, this means he will be a key leader in adopting the rules and procedures that will govern how legislation is dealt with in the House starting with the January session.

 Walden will have real power — big change from his situation last summer and fall when he talked to voters in Pendleton and other eastern Oregon towns during his campaign swing.

He said then, “It can be frustrating ... You don’t get to do what you want to do.”

“Pressure points change,” he said. “I don’t have the ability to say, ‘Don’t schedule a hearing on that bill. Or move that bill.’ ... You’re at the mercy of the majority.” 

Walden complained during a speech to the American Loggers Council at the Pendleton Red Lion that, Congress has yet to take up a foresty management bill this session in spite of forests in his district that are “over-stocked, disease-ridden and bug-infested” and ripe for catastrophic fire. Further, timber harvest levels in Oregon are at “extraordinary lows,” and the few mills left in his district struggle to stay open while unemployment in rural counties exceed the state’s 10 percent rate.

“Without a change in Washington, this will continue,” he said.

Walden also jabbed at one of his favorite targets — the nation’s debt load. Everyday, he said, Congress expands spending in programs without accounting for how to pay for them. Walden said he wants to see some sort of restriction that limits Congress’ spending,

Well, there has been a change. Walden will be able to get his bill to the floor. Maybe that will have a positive impact on forest management and other issues dear and important to eastern Oregon.

The same could be true for spending issues of concern here. Milton-Freewater voters wisely voted, by an overwhelming margin, to authorize a $2.85 million bond to repair a flood levee system. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are spearheading an effort to restore the salmon run in the Walla Walla River through a water diversion project. Both rely on federal spending and support.

Even though Walden campaigned against entitlements, as did most Republicans, he will now be in the kind of power position that will encourage federal agencies to pay attention to his concerns and the needs of the voters in his district. The big challenge Republicans will face, now that they control the House, is how they will govern. Will they be willing to comprise with a Democratic president and Senate to move legislation and attack the nation’s needs? Will their agenda of tax cuts while also reducing the deficit and growing jobs be possible?

Voters nationwide and in Oregon seem clear that they want some action. Walden’s position of real leadership gives voters in our region a voice in what happens.

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