Guest Report by Michael Byrne: Up close, and yet so far away.
Today's post is a first person report by Congressional candidate Michael Byrne. He was in Klamath Falls. So was Greg Walden.
Greg Walden has advantages of incumbency. Byrne's account reveals the difficulty of being taken seriously as a candidate and getting noticed at events. Byrne had questions to ask and issues to raise that would have been welcomed by some of the small farmers and ranches who sat in the back. They didn't get asked or raised.
This event wasn't for Byrne, or them either.
This event wasn't for Byrne, or them either.
|Klamath Falls Herald and News: Photo of event|
The meeting took place to Walden could announce progress on $10 million in emergency drought relief, to subsidize costs for pumping from deeper wells. This was Walden showing off his clout. The Klamath Falls paper covered the event. Byrne was not mentioned in their story. Click The Klamath Falls newspaper captions the photo saying Walden was "flanked by local residents and community leaders."
Byrne said he sat up front. He kept quiet. Walden's security people had made clear that he was not welcome. "There's nothing for you here."
Byrne: "Greg Walden is in town and he's gonna make an appearance at the Chamber of Commerce in two hours.
So I blew off an afternoon's canvassing in the working class neighborhoods of town and headed over.
Among the first to arrive and wearing a Michael Byrne for Congress button I chatted up the ranchers and small operators with the most to lose with a "call on water" by the tribes in this drought year. All were worried and anxiously awaiting their congressman. I understood at the most basic level the fears and frustrations for I had done their job; changing pipe on 12 hour sets, pulling breech presented calves, keeping fences tight and cows watered.
I'm running for Congress, I said. Well good for you, they said.
The room was small, the PA didn't work. I helped the Chamber President troubleshoot; bad mic cord. Someone drove off to get a spare. What was your name she asked; Mike Byrne, I'm running for Congress.
Too late. The man is in the room already. There are cameras everywhere, he has a big announcement. He is surrounded by men. Big men in cowboy boots, jeans and sport coats. Luckily I was dressed the same, I thought I could saddle right up and ask a few tough questions.
These events are tightly scripted (not my style) and I wasn't on the agenda. Walking toward our congressman I was cut off by the inimitable Nick Strader. I ignored him and angled for an opening. I was cut off again and told that this was not a campaign event and there was nothing for me here. Are you threatening me? That's not what I said but there's nothing for you here, you can't talk to Mr Walden.
I only want to introduce myself, I'm from Parkdale and he is after all my congressman. "Sorry" and he crossed his big arms and spread his feet.
"No, I'm sorry" I slipped around him and walked up to the incumbent and introduced myself. As we shook hands I told him that I was gonna take his seat in November.
He said I would have to win the Primary first.(oh yeah, there's that)
I took my seat in front and pondered my next move. The event was to showcase Walden's leadership and clout. He arrived with the promise of 10 million dollars stolen out of the omnibus spending bill disaster relief fund. (no doubt out of Puerto Rico's share) that would go to paying the electricity bills of deep well pumpers. (Not any of the small guys I had been talking with.) He was lauded by a county commissioner who actually had tears in his eyes as he thanked Walden for saving the day. A young reporter from the Herald & News asked about the ill fated KBRA that Walden let die on the vine. No questions from the audience, only the press.
Should I stand up and shout out "yeah! what about the KBRA [Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement], and what about the poor ranchers in the back who believe in you? What about science? what about climate change? What about treaty rights and your abject failure to advance the best possible bill that was a unifying collaboration among the most diverse groups imaginable? A coalition that will never coalesce around anything anymore? What about...what about...what about?
This was the election right here. Gift wrapped. Just stand up and take over the room. Made to order. Put Walden on the spot, in front of the cameras, be the candidate that takes on Walden on his own turf, on his own issues, on his own time.
There was a time, I know for sure, that I would have done exactly that. I didn't' fear being taken out by Mr Strader or humiliated by his sycophant underlings cuz I knew that I had plenty of support in the back of the room. It's just that I have grown up. I want to have that discussion with Greg Walden in a sanctioned environment where I will be taken seriously; not a heckling fringe candidate, with his arms pinned behind his back being led out of the hall red faced.
Without any obstacle or dissent the Man blamed the compact itself for it's failure and said without any sense of ownership, shame or irony, that it' time to come up with a better one.
Bullshit! I screamed inside.The young reporter persisted, he dissembled. So this is Politics after you get elected. His seat is safe.
After a round of self-congratulatory pats on the back the Walden entourage left out the front door.
I went and had dinner with a group of K Falls progressives and had a glass of red wine. I now know what nothing feels like."