Ray Baum, a former Oregon legislator and public utility commissioner who became a top congressional aide, died Friday due to complications from prostate cancer.
Baum, 62, was the staff director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the most powerful panels on Capitol Hill. Its jurisdiction includes telecommunications, health care, energy, the internet and a host of other issues.
Baum’s death was announced by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, a close friend who had brought him to Washington to hold a series of key staff positions.
“Ray dedicated his life to public service, first as an elected official and then as an advisor on Capitol Hill,” Walden said. “Our committee, the people of Oregon, and our country are better off because of Ray’s selfless service.”
Baum was a LaGrande attorney when he was elected to the Oregon House in 1988, the same year that fellow Republican Walden also won election to that body.
Baum became House majority leader in 1995 but did not run for re-election in 1996. In 2001, then-Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, sought to have Baum — who had also been an attorney for Smith’s frozen food business — appointed by President George W. Bush to a federal judgeship. In 2002, however, Baum announced he was withdrawing from consideration for the appointment.
In 2003, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, appointed Baum to the three-member Public Utility Commission. In early 2010, Kulongoski named him to the PUC chairmanship.
Baum left the PUC at the start of 2011 to work as a policy adviser to Walden as the congressman took over the chairmanship of House Energy and Commerce’s telecommunications subcommittee.
In 2016, Baum went to work for the National Association of Broadcasters, which was headed by Smith, the former senator from Oregon.
“His zest for life, his creative legislative mind, his infectious humor, his love for others, and his determined work ethic as he battled cancer, these were an inspiration to all,” Smith said in a statement issued Friday.
When Walden took over the chairmanship of the full Energy and Commerce panel at the start of 2017, he asked Baum to return as the committee’s staff director.
According to a 2016 article in the LaGrande Observer, Baum and his wife, Kristine, had six children. He was born and raised in LaGrande and graduated from Brigham Young University and the Willamette University College of Law.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the cause of Baum’s death.