Gordon Smith

Former Oregon U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters. 

Former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, announced this week that he will step down two years early as head of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Smith, 68, made the announcement in a video to the more than 8,300 radio and television stations in the trade association and lobbying group.

“It has been my great honor to give the lion’s roar for broadcasters — those who run into the storm, those who stand firm in chaos to hear the voice of the people, those who hold to account the powerful," Smith said in the video.

Chief Operating Officer Curtis LeGeyt will become president of the NAB on Jan. 1. He joined the group in 2011 and previously was head of government relations.

LeGeyt had previously worked for top Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and the 2008 campaign of President Barack Obama.

Smith, originally from Pendleton, had taken the job as NAB's top officer in 2009, the year after he lost his re-election bid to Democrat Jeff Merkley. 

Smith had signed a contract extension in 2017 to keep him the top job through 2023. 

On Aug. 4 of last year, Smith was admitted to a Washington, D.C., area hospital with what at first was reported as a mild stroke. Smith issued a statement on Aug. 6 that rapid medical intervention had helped him avoid a stroke.

Smith decided earlier this year it was time for a change in the association's leadership. LeGeyt was chosen as his successor. Smith will remain employed as an NAB lobbyist through 2024.

Former U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, had been considered a strong candidate to replace Smith in 2023. Walden's family has a background in radio broadcasting, and he frequently worked with Smith on legislation over his two decades in Congress.

Walden was a frequent speaker at NAB events and received major donations over the years from the group. When Walden announced in 2019 that he would not seek re-election, Smith praised Walden's tenure in office.

"He is one of the finest public servants I’ve ever known," Smith said. "Greg’s career has been defined by success — as a committed local broadcaster, as a bipartisan political bridge builder, and as a brilliant legislator."

Some industry publications cast LeGeyt's appointment as Smith's successor to be well-timed because of the the 2020 election results.

"LeGeyt’s Democratic connections certainly can’t hurt with a Democrat in the White House and current slim majorities on the Hill," Radio World wrote April 7.

Walden and Smith could not be reached for comment Friday.

Smith was a state senator when he ran in a special election in January 1996 to replace U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Oregon, who had resigned over sexual harassment allegations.

Smith lost the special election by 18,200 votes to then-U.S. Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Portland. 

U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Oregon, announced he would not seek re-election in 1996. Smith launched his second bid for the U.S. Senate in the same year, winning the November election in a three-way race.

Smith was re-elected in 2002, defeating the Democrat, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, by 18 percentage points. 

Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley defeated Smith in 2008, by 3.4 percentage points.

No Oregon Republican has served in the U.S. Senate since Smith's departure. Merkley was re-elected in 2014 and 2020. Wyden still serves in the U.S. Senate and has announced his plan to run for another term in 2022.

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