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Vocal Crowd In Bend Gives Walden An Earful


Oregon Congressman Greg Walden addresses a crowd of thousands in Bend.

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden addresses a crowd of thousands in Bend.

Amanda Peacher/OPB

More than 2,000 people turned out for an energetic, and sometimes hostile, town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Greg Walden in Bend Thursday evening.

Oregon’s only Republican congressman fielded questions on everything from health care to background checks for gun buyers, to his alignment with President Trump. Walden scheduled the meeting in Bend after getting heat for not hosting a town hall in the largest city in his district since 2013.

Bend is a blue island of Democratic majority in a sea of Walden’s mostly red district, and the largely left-leaning crowd quickly erupted with boos, chants, hisses or cheers at Walden’s responses to statements from constituents.

>> Related: OPB Politics Now: Walden Faces The Music

At times, people who stood up to ask questions barely uttered a word or two — such as “climate change” or “public lands”— before being cut off by cheering and stomping or boos. Walden was frequently interrupted by shouting. His town halls earlier this week in the Columbia River Gorge were similarly crowded.  

Walden responded calmly, asking the audience to be respectful and let speakers get their questions out.

“You’re starting to sound like Congress,” Walden said, repeating a line he had used earlier in the week during a similarly unruly moment.

Health care was a prominent major topic for many.

“Why do you want to do away with the Affordable Care Act?” asked one young woman.

Walden was a key author of the Republican bill written to replace Obamacare. The bill was pulled in Congress earlier this year when it was obvious Republicans did not have enough votes for it to pass.

Walden pointed out all of the elements of the ACA that he supported retaining, such as protections for people with preexisting conditions and allowing young people to remain on their parent’s plan until the age of 26. But Walden said the health care system under Obama had major problems.

“I want to fix it, so it will work,” he said.
 
One supporter thanked Walden for his position in support of immigration reform.

“I believe illegals need to leave this country,” said a man, who was in a wheelchair and identified as a veteran.

The crowd responded with eruptive applause when Bend resident Aimee Metcalf asked Walden to distance himself from Trump and his policies.

“What is happening with our president is not normal,” she said, referring to Trump’s relationship with Russia. “You know it.”

Walden suggested there are many places where he disagrees with the president. When asked why the congressman does not press Trump to release his tax information, he said, “Every one of us has a right to protect our tax returns.”

“Boo!” the crowd shouted, with many holding up red signs that said, “DISAGREE.” A handful of people clapped, and one supporter held a sign that said, “Thank You Walden.”

The environment and public lands also loomed large in the talk.

“Why have you not stood up to the Trump administration’s anti-environment actions?” asked one man.

>> Related: Subscribe to the “OPB Politics Now” podcast.

“E-P-A! E-P-A!” the crowd began chanting.

One woman asked if the congressman saw any end to the partisanship in Washington.

“What you don’t see is how much we do work together,” Walden said. “Some things we disagree on, but there’s a lot that we work together on in Congress.”

Walden’s responses were at times technical and specific, referring to his voting record on specific legislation.

His staff displayed slides on a 20-foot screen at the front of the high school gym with bullet points about health care, veterans affairs or other issues as they came up.

The meeting was slated to last an hour but it went on for two. Many in the crowd thanked Walden for coming to Bend and responding to such an energetic crowd.

“Democracy in action,” Walden said.

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