7:15am

Sat November 27, 2010
Politics

Oregon Rep. Walden: The GOP's Go-To Guy

There's a lot of work to do on Capitol Hill before the Republicans take the House majority in January: offices to move, signs to paint, agendas to write and calendars to build.

In the midst of that flurry, the GOP says it is implementing its campaign promises to make the House more transparent and accountable to the voters it represents. The man who is tackling that job is Oregon Rep. Greg Walden.

Unless you're from Oregon, you may never have heard of him. Until recently, he was just another congressman -- one of 435. He did make headlines briefly about a year ago, when he was the first member of Congress to catch swine flu. (He recovered just fine.)

Now, Walden is a rising star in the party that will run the House under Speaker John Boehner.

The People's House

Just a few days after the election, Boehner introduced Walden to the media horde. Boehner said over the last year, Walden has become his go-to guy -- and that's why he chose him to head up the Republicans' majority transition team.

"This is really important because we've got to fix the Congress so that the Congress can focus in on Americans' priorities," Boehner said.

It's a big job. Boehner asked the team to pore over every single rule, procedure and routine the House and its leaders follow -- looking for better, more efficient ways to run Congress. Can they make the House schedule more compact? Put staff announcements online rather than printing stacks of memos? Mow the grass less often?

Walden stepped up to the cluster of cameras and microphones, and said the thing that's always at the front of his mind is that it's the people's House.

"How do we open it up? How do we make it more accessible? How do we bring the public in? How do we return this government back to the people?" he said.

Walden says he wants to create new ways for citizens to interact with Congress over the Internet. One of the House Republicans' pre-election pledges was to post all bills online for three days before they are taken to the House floor.

On The Air

Heading the transition team puts Walden in the media spotlight more than ever before, but he seems comfortable. And there's a reason for that.

In the mid-1970s, Walden was a radio personality. Later, he and his wife bought two small radio stations and increased their chain to five before he sold them a few years ago. Walden likes to point out that he's done everything from signing the paychecks to fixing the transmitter cable. And running a small business, he says, prepared him for the job he's doing today.

Walden says Republican leaders aren't ready to reveal specific changes yet. But, he says, the proof of their sincerity and genuine desire for changing Washington will be the answer to these questions in a year's time:

"Did we improve the process? Did we reduce the rancor? Did we make the place more efficient and transparent and open -- it is the public's business, by the way. Did we open it up for more scrutiny by the press and the public? Did we accomplish these things? And we will have done an incredible turnaround," he says, adding, "We have to prove ourselves."

Walden is going out of his way to collect recommendations for improvement. He has put an anonymous suggestions box outside the door of the transition team's office, and he has even asked the press to drop by with ideas.

That's something no leader in recent history has done, but maybe Walden doesn't feel so different from the Capitol's journalists -- since he's an old radio guy himself. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.