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Former Congressman Will Run Again

March 6, 1998

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) _ Former Rep. Wes Cooley, driven from politics by leaders of his own party and convicted of lying to state voters about his war record, said today he will run again.

``Why am I running for office? Because I was a good congressman,″ Cooley told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his ranch in Alfalfa. ``I voted the way my district wanted me to.″

Cooley said he felt he had a chance to win, despite his decision to drop his 1996 re-election bid and his conviction a year later for lying on the state voters pamphlet over his Korean War service in the Army Special Forces.

``If you run for an office, why would you put out the effort and get all the hits I’m going to get from you people if I didn’t think I had a possibility of winning?″ he said.

Other Republicans were shocked by Cooley’s plans.

``I’m scratching my head and saying nowhere in political science does this come up,″ said Perry Atkinson, a Christian broadcaster from Medford who is challenging Greg Walden, a former state senator from Hood River, for the GOP nomination.

``I’m just baffled by it,″ Atkinson said.

``Maybe he thinks that since the president is getting such high marks with his behavior, then he (Cooley) can be elected to Congress,″ said state Sen. Len Hannon, R-Ashland.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who lives in the 2nd District, was described by press aide Mary Healy as ``shocked and incredulous.″

Allegations surrounding Cooley, who served one term representing the 2nd Congressional District from 1995-97, at one point led Republicans to fear they might lose the 2nd District, which encompasses Eastern Oregon and a large part of southern Oregon.

When GOP leaders finally persuaded Cooley to step aside, Bob Smith, the highly popular rancher who had long represented the district, agreed to again run for the seat and was elected by a wide margin. Smith is not seeking re-election this year.

Cooley, 65, owns a ranch and vitamin-packaging business in central Oregon.

He had been questioned about the accuracy of his resume when he first ran for Congress. More serious troubles began in 1996, when he was accused of lying about serving in the Army Special Forces in Korea.

Records from Cooley’s Army service were lost in a fire, and a sergeant who supervised him in a Special Forces unit said Cooley never went to Korea.

On Thursday, Smith dismissed Cooley’s chances.

``He doesn’t think Wes Cooley entering into the race would be much of a factor,″ said Paul Unger, a Smith aide. Smith has endorsed Walden for the job.

After leaving office, Cooley was convicted of knowingly making a false statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet. He was ordered to pay $7,110, perform 100 hours of community service and serve two years of probation.

He is not barred by his conviction from running for Congress.

The lawyer who represented Cooley, Walter Todd, said the former congressman could have his record expunged three years after his conviction.

George, head of a landowner-rights group called Oregonians In Action, said he had dinner with Cooley and his wife, Rosemary, last fall in Bend.

``He was very upbeat and happy and saying he still wanted to be involved in politics,″ George said. ``But I never expected this.″

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