Democrat Jim Crary is not the only person looking to unseat Representative Greg Walden (Or-R) come November. There’s handful of folks, women and men, hoping to take the top spot in the upcoming primary, but Crary has an edge others don’t – he was on the ticket against Walden in 2016.
Granted, Walden won that race by a significant margin: 272, 952 votes to Crary’s 106,640. But those numbers don’t seem so daunting when the details are factored in. Crary’s campaign budget in 2016 was $5,000 of his own funds. His staff was even leaner – him in a rig.
Sitting in a Starbucks just off Highway 97, where he’s just driven in from meeting with constituents in Madras on a recent Monday morning, Crary said that 2016’s election taught him a lot of things. Like how to depend on others, something you get the feeling this Fargo, North Dakota-raised fella is loathe to do.
Crary agreed to sit down with me for a coffee chat, only we’d both had already hit our coffee limit for the day. The prior caffeine may have fueled our hour-and-half long chat, however. The talk was far-reaching: Spanning the years of Civil Rights – Crary’s first marriage was to a black woman – a decision that his own father simply could never accept. To Vietnam – Crary, himself a Vietnam-era veteran, had three cousins who served, one who was killed in Vietnam, two who died by suicide in the aftermath of their service in that war. To DACA – Crary supports full citizenship for Dreamers.
Crary is intelligent, affable, well-spoken, and to use that all too-tired phrase, authentic. No. Really. When he speaks of being raised up Catholic, the generally articulate Crary struggles to express how early religious education marred his view of God. He lacks that professional politician’s ability to divert the questions. Instead, he answers each question, each challenge to his position thoughtfully. Carefully considering not the political fallout of his answers, but rather what he really feels or believes.
Should Crary win May’s primary, he knows that taking on Walden will be a bit like David taking on Goliath, especially when it comes to the election coffers. Walden has held Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District since 1998. The District covers 2/3rds of the state, most of it east of Portland. For years, Walden has enjoyed great favor from the big money wheat farmers and ranchers throughout the state. And for most of his political career, Walden has gone unchallenged.
But his alliance with the Trump administration and in particular, Walden’s all-in commitment to do away with the Affordable Care Act, (he chaired the committee that led the repeal), has left many an Oregon voter determined that this term be Walden’s last. (In full disclosure, I’m one of those who has signed on to see Walden replaced).
Walden consistently dismissed the notion that doing away with the Affordable Care Act could leave 640,000 Oregonians with pre-existing conditions without healthcare. “You hear all these numbers going state by state,” Walden said. “I just don’t buy into all that.”
In other words, it’s not his problem if you don’t have the health coverage you need. Walden, like the rest of the GOP, was far more concerned with offering big tax breaks to the already obscenely rich, than he was worried about how your Aunt Maxine was going to get insurance to cover her third-bout of breast cancer.
Walden is the reason Jim Crary has made campaign finance reform his primary focus.
Uggh. Campaign Finance Reform? I groaned. Voters don’t really care about that, do they? I mean do most voters even know what Citizens United is? Do they even care?
Crary pushed back against my suggestion that Campaign Finance Reform isn’t a sexy enough topic for voters to concern themselves with.
“Walden says he’s not beholden to the corporations he’s taking millions from,” Crary explained. “He says he takes their money and says ‘Thank you very much.'”
Crary maintains any voter who believes that Walden is accepting millions from corporations or lobbyists with nothing more than a thank you in return is living in the State of Denial. It’s either naive or outright foolishness to think Walden isn’t cozying up to the big money donors in an effort to keep his coffers overflowing. Those donors expect something in return, including that tax break that Walden helped hand them on a silver platter.
This was not what our forefathers had in mind when they established a government run “by the people for the people.” Corporations are not people, too. They are businesses set up for profit and their profit is often affected negatively when they have to consider the good of the people over the benefit to shareholders.
Crary understands big business. He worked in procurements & contracts for BP (British Petroleum). He also understands just the mention of BP can create all sorts of unpleasant reactions among Oregon voters, who have long made the environment one of their trademark issues. Crary has no intention of expanding our dependency on fossil fuels. He’s a proponent for clean energy and would like to see Congress implement a plan to wean Americans off of fossil fuels by 2035.
Two of his grown kids teach school. Crary would like to see more federal funding diverted away from incarcerating people and into educating people. Front-loading an investment into education can prevent us having to back-load it into incarceration later. Promise kids a future education and you give them a vision for a better life. One that may seem unreachable otherwise.
Despite the attacks on many fronts of our democratic institutions by the Trump administration, Crary remains hopeful. He believes that Oregonians will deliver Walden a much-deserved reckoning come November.
Besides it is not Crary’s nature to be all hang-dogged about the state of the nation. “We’ve survived worse than Trump,” he said. “We will survive him.”
Crary believes we have a lot more in common with those across the aisle from us than our current political climate would suggest. He often cites Venn Diagrams when speaking about today’s frenzied political environs. “We have to find the places where our lives overlap and start there,” Crary says.
Find the things we have in common for the common good of us all.
That includes replacing Walden in November with someone who believes it is not wrong to want to help others. This nation was founded upon the principles of giving power to common people and not to a cadre of the wealthiest white guys.
Jim Crary might just be the kind of fella Oregon voters can get behind.
If you’d like more information on how you can help unseat Greg Walden and get Jim Crary elected, head on over to https://crary4congress.com/
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author and journalist. She and her husband make their home in Redmond, Oregon.