Russ Walker winces at criticism that his group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, is made up of carpetbaggers sent to Oregon to overturn the 2003 Legislature’s $1.2 billion tax increase.
After all, the Keizer resident graduated from high school in Central Point, a small community near Medford. He has lived here the past nine years and can point to ancestors who settled in Southern Oregon in 1860.
Walker, 36, got his first taste of political campaigning as a high school student in 1984. The former Eagle Scout delivered campaign signs for Medford Republican Bob Smith’s first re-election campaign for Congress and for President Ronald Reagan’s re-election drive.
“That’s kind of where I got the bug to get involved,” Walker said.
Walker left Oregon to study political science at Brigham Young University. The Houston native returned to Oregon after college to launch his career.
Initially, he handled marketing for Morris Air and other start-up airlines. Then Walker moved into public policy advocacy as political director for Oregon Right to Life. The anti-abortion group is one of the most potent forces in Oregon politics, combining a host of grass-roots volunteers and a hefty treasury to influence political races.
That combination proved appealing for Citizens for a Sound Economy. The Washington, D.C.-based group, funded mostly by large corporations and conservative foundations, hadn’t made much of a splash after opening a state chapter here.
The group’s initial director, Cathy Epley, wasn’t as good a fit for the job as Walker, said Bill Sizemore, executive director of Oregon Taxpayers Union.
Walker said the group’s focus on “free markets and less government” fit his views, “so I got behind it.” He joined Citizens for a Sound Economy’s staff in 1999.
Walker helped form local chapters in several communities across Oregon. And he recruited dozens of members who could converge on the Capitol for protests or to lobby lawmakers. That helped give the little-known organization a higher profile in Oregon.
Citizens for a Sound Economy’s stature grew when it helped defeat Ballot Measure 28 last January. The Legislature had placed the temporary income and corporate tax hike on the ballot to avert cutbacks in schools and other state- funded services.
“I think Russ is doing a stellar job for them,” Sizemore said. “He’s very committed to the cause, and he’s working very hard on the projects he’s working on.”
Steve Law can be reached at (503) 399-6615 or slaw@ StatesmanJournal.com