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Greg Walden story in The Hill

GOP leaders pledge K St. Project dead

By Molly K. Hooper – 09/28/10 06:00 AM ET

A key House Republican lawmaker who has leaned on business groups to contribute to GOP candidates says the K Street Project is dead.

Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), deputy chairman at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and chairman of the Republican leadership, has held dozens of briefings this cycle with leaders at various corporate political action committees.

He has urged them to donate more to Republicans, but disputes any suggestion that the House GOP has or will be reviving a Tom DeLay-era initiative aimed at pressing K Street to hire Republican lobbyists and contribute to GOP candidates.

“Absolutely not. [The K Street Project] is not there now. It won’t return,” Walden said during an interview in his office last week.

With control of the House up for grabs, both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and NRCC have been leaning hard on lobbyists and trade associations to pony up, according to K Street insiders. Walden has been leading those delicate discussions for the NRCC.

Walden, while noting that both parties brief PAC officials, said, “I do not threaten people. It’s not my deal.”

He added that the meetings address poll numbers, historical data and the backgrounds of Republican candidates.

“At the end of the day, my governing principle is all I ever owe people is a ‘thank you,’ that’s all I owe. And anybody in this business that thinks otherwise is in the wrong business,” the 53-year-old lawmaker said.

He says he understands how K Street operates, noting that it has understandably shifted its political contributions since Democrats captured control of Congress.

“I get it,” Walden said. “I understand how that community works. They have to do their thing. My job is to say, ‘Yes, but…”

Another part of his responsibilities, he says, is to pinpoint Republican candidates who have a good chance of becoming members of the 112th Congress.

He claims that a big wave is coming on Nov. 2 — so big that many on Nov. 3 will ask, “Who the heck is that [incoming member of Congress]?”

Walden said, “My job is to identify who that person might be in advance of the election and how [interested parties] can help now.”

Walden has implored PAC officials to review their clients’ interests, as well as how Democrats and Republicans address those needs, and make necessary adjustments in their political donations.

“I’m just trying to move that needle,” Walden said.

There are times, Walden is quick to say, that the Republican agenda and the needs of corporate clients do not correlate.

Throughout the 30-minute interview, Walden recited GOP talking points and deftly fended off questions about why the new Republican “Pledge to America” does not include more details.

Moments after a question about why earmarks aren’t addressed in the pledge, the House buzzer signaling an impending floor vote rang.

“Time’s up,” Walden said with a laugh.

Unlike some on Capitol Hill, Walden appears comfortable in his own skin.

In 2009, amid the swine flu scare, Walden contracted the illness. While most legislators would have stayed home and quietly recovered, Walden used his Twitter account to publicly disclose that he was ill.

Walden, who voluntarily gave up his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee in February to take on his new leadership role, is one of the few lawmakers who can go deep into the weeds of policy while also understanding the nuances of the politics of a battleground district.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who heads the NRCC’s recruitment efforts, said, “The uniqueness of having Greg is that he helps in everything. As the deputy, he does it all. There’s times when I went on road trips that he’s gone with me, he runs all the regional meetings each week to keep everyone apprised, he co-chairs all the meetings we have every Thursday — he does the gamut.”

Walden is optimistic that Republicans will win the House.

Pointing to the handful of large stacks of Democratic bills in his office, Walden says they represent “Exhibit A of how not to govern.”

“These were the incendiary torches that lit the fire across America that is known as the Tea Party movement,” Walden said.

Though the six-term lawmaker holds high-ranking positions in the GOP leadership, he is one of the few House Republicans to work with Democrats in the highly polarized 111th Congress.

Late last year, Walden recruited retiring Democratic Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.) to sign on to a discharge petition for a bill that would require members to have a period of 72 hours to read bills before they come to votes on the floor.

Baird said, “He shoots straight. He’s open to different ideas; in my experience, he’s more concerned with getting something done of substance than political posturing.”

As the sole Republican Oregonian lawmaker in Congress, Walden has worked with his fellow Beaver State colleagues on issues such as forestry, water rights and protection of Mount Hood National Park.

The former congressional staffer and radio station owner has twice considered running for governor of the state, recently passing on an opportunity to run in the gubernatorial election this year.

“You never say never, but after being here for a while, do you really want to go and give this up? I mean, you know what it takes to get into a position where you can see a gavel, let alone maybe hold one some day,” Walden said.

While Walden is planning to return to the Energy and Commerce Committee next year with his seniority intact, he will not launch a bid to become the top-ranking Republican on the influential panel.

For now, Walden remains consumed with picking up the necessary 39 seats to regain control of the House. Walden is aiming for 41 or 42 seats, “just to be safe,” he said.

“My goal and my focus right now is to make sure we have something to divide up after [the election] that’s positive, starting with gavels. That’s all I care about,” Walden said.

Despite the long hours logged in NRCC and leadership meetings, Walden makes an effort to return home to his sprawling district every weekend.

“Greg’s commitment to his district is really impressive. It’s not at all uncommon for him to do dozens of town halls during a recess, and it’s a very large district. So, for him to do town halls, he’s got to put on some mileage, and that shows,” Baird said.

Walden said he enjoys skiing and hiking Mount Hood with his wife and son, who is now in college.

[A video of The Hill’s interview with Walden can be viewed on]

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