As expected, the Democrats suffered a crushing defeat in the House last Tuesday, losing more than 60 seats and losing control of the chamber to the Republicans. The GOP gains exceed those made during the Republican wave of 1994 when the party picked up 54 House seats.
Not since 1948 has the party made such monumental inroads. With 218 seats needed for a majority, Republicans so far have officially won 233, while Democrats have won 174.
The news was better for Democrats in the Senate, though still not good. Despite losing six seats (with two still too close to call), Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, narrowly prevailed and his party hung onto control by winning hard-fought contests in California, Delaware, Colorado, Connecticut and West Virginia.
The more notable impact on Oregon from the national election is the shift in power to Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR). While Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio have enjoyed powerful majority Committee posts during the last four years, their roles now will be marginalized as they settle into the new Democratic minority. House rules allow for little influence from the minority.
When newly minted Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) made his victory speech and began to outline the new Republican House agenda, Greg Walden was standing right next to him. Walden also is featured on the cover of the New York Times this week, standing next to Boehner.
Walden emerged as a team player earlier this year when he was asked by Republican Leadership to relinquish his spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee. At the time, a Democratic House Member who had just switched to the Republican Party was in need of a top-tier committee assignment. Walden strategically agreed to temporarily step down from the Committee until the next Congress. Walden’s political savvy and ability to work with Republican Leaders is now paying dividends.
Walden, the current chairman of House Republican Leadership, will undoubtedly play an important role in the new Congress. Right out of the gate, House Republican leadership has tapped Walden to lead the GOP transition team. He will be in charge of several working groups that will be planning the implementation of the “Pledge to America.”
Additionally, Walden is expected to reclaim his post on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over energy, Medicaid, Medicare Part B and health insurance. Along with this committee assignment, Walden is likely to become Chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, a role that will be pivotal for several stakeholders and businesses in Oregon.
Walden’s ascension to House Leadership marks the first time in decades that an Oregon Member has held a position of power within Congressional Leadership, in either the House or the Senate.
Washington is undoubtedly heading into a whirlwind session when the 112th Congress is seated in January, but the good news is that Oregon has a strong voice in the storm.