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In Walden's Absence, Constituents In Bend Hold Rogue Town Halls

<p>This Feb. 16, 2012 file photo shows Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., as he heads to the House Ways and Means Committee room on Capitol Hill in Washington. </p>

J. Scott Applewhite, file

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This Feb. 16, 2012 file photo shows Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., as he heads to the House Ways and Means Committee room on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Constituents of Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., have organized two unofficial town hall meetings on Thursday in Bend. The congressman holds meetings in Deschutes County every year, but some Bend residents are upset that he hasn’t held one in their community since 2013. Constituents have held weekly protests outside Walden’s Bend office for the past three weeks to request a meeting.

Bend resident Ariel Mendez organized one of the two unofficial town halls, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Mendez organized the meeting so people could discuss issues like health care and immigration.

"I thought, well, we should just get together with a group of people who want to discuss these issues because we think they’re important and invite him," Mendez said.

Mendez said the free tickets for the meeting were gone within 24 hours. He expects attendance at the meeting to be standing-room only.

In an email to OPB, Andrew Malcolm, spokesman for Walden, pointed out that the congressman recently held a telephone town hall that was open to anyone in the state, and that he holds meetings in every county in the second district at least once a year — including Deschutes.

It's common for Congressional and Senate representatives to rotate appearances in various communities in a county. The second congressional district is the largest in Oregon.

“It’s a huge district," Mendez acknowledged, but he said he thinks Walden should prioritize a visit to Bend, since it's one of the largest communities that he represents. "It’s still the same size population by district. I think it makes sense that if you’re trying to reach your constituents and correspond with them, you go where the people are.”

Malcolm says Walden expects to hold a town hall in Bend sometime later this year.

Bend activist Dave Stranahan organized the second unofficial town hall meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, which will be entirely focused on healthcare. Stranahan is a local facilitator for Healthcare For All, a statewide network that advocates for universal healthcare. Stranahan said that he's seen a spike in local activism since the election of President Donald Trump.

"In the last few years if we had 15 people at at group meeting, that was a good turnout," said Stranahan. "I'm expecting we'll fill the room, which holds 80."

Organizers of both unofficial town halls say they plan to moderate a civil discussion.

"I see it as an organizing opportunity to inform people and move people to action," said Stranahan. If and when we get a town hall with Congressmen Walden we'll be ready with the issues we want to talk with him about."

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amanda Peacher