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Walden Finds His Niche as GOP ‘Utility Player’

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Rep. Greg Walden canceled his own election night party to return to Washington and lead the GOP transition to the House majority, at the request of presumptive Speaker John Boehner.

It’s not clear exactly when Rep. Greg Walden became an indispensable part of Minority Leader John Boehner’s leadership team, but a few days before Republicans won control of the House, the presumptive Speaker called the Oregonian to ask a favor.

Walden was wrapping up a final multi-state campaign swing with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) in the waning days of the midterm elections when Boehner phoned, asking him to lead the transition team for the new House majority.

Walden, the chairman of GOP leadership, said he hesitated, explaining he had originally planned to spend election night in Oregon with his supporters and had no idea what the job would entail.

“He said ... ‘I need you here Wednesday morning,’” Walden recalled. He scrapped his election night plans and returned to D.C.

His first task: emcee the NRCC’s election night gathering at the Hyatt.

“I don’t mind being the utility player; I enjoy trying to solve problems,” Walden said, a trait he says he learned during his days as the owner of a small business. “You tackle whatever needs to be tackled and you try to figure out how to solve the problems and keep moving forward.”

The GOP’s jack-of-all-trades, Walden has had a fast and unusual ascent through House Republican ranks, which began in part because of his close ties to Sessions, a longtime friend outside of the Capitol.

When Sessions became NRCC chairman in 2009, Walden was a deputy chairman. As the Texan’s right-hand man with an expanding portfolio, Walden was brought to the table once a week to discuss strategy at the campaign committee.

In January, he was invited to a leadership-only retreat in Annapolis.

Walden impressed leadership at the gathering with his knowledge of campaigns and his political savvy. But it was his willingness to sacrifice for the Conference that ultimately won him a permanent seat in leadership in the 111th Congress.

Following the announcement by Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.) that he would switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party, leaders were looking for someone to relinquish their seat on the exclusive Energy and Commerce Committee to make room for the newly minted GOPer.

“No one else would leave the committee,” one Republican operative said in March. “So they asked Walden and he, very wisely, said yes.”

Walden said Friday he hopes to return to the committee in the 112th Congress, where he could find himself in line for a subcommittee chairmanship.

Prior to stepping off the committee, he served as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

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