By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Merkley town hall targets transparency

Nathlie Hardy / News-RegisterSen. Merkley speaks at the Yamhill Valley Campus of Chemeketa Community College.
Nathlie Hardy / News-Register
Sen. Merkley speaks at the Yamhill Valley Campus of Chemeketa Community College.

His points were on target with attendees, several of whom engaged with him on them.

The first question from the audience was posed by a Chemeketa student, who wondered what Merkley was willing to do to keep assault weapons out of the hands of potentially violent people.

Merkley said he was looking through two lenses. First, how do you accomplish that while honoring the second amendment. Second, what is actually effective in reducing, if not eliminating, tragedies like the recent rash of mass shootings. He said he’s looking to constituents to let him know what they think as well.

Tom Wright from the Delphian School in Sheridan brought a copy of the Constitution and urged Merkley to keep it at the forefront of his decision making.

Bill Bordeaux told Merkley he agreed that decisions made in D.C. should be made in the public eye. Bordeaux said he supported efforts to stop the federal government’s paralysis.

Merkley, who has been leading a campaign to curb Senate filibusters, said he is advocating for reform and committed to restoring a functioning Legislature.

For one thing, he said he wants to make it so obstructionists are named so they can be held publicly accountable. “Disclosure is the sunshine that disinfects the political process,” Merkley said.

Merkley’s call for transparency resonated with Marcie Rosenzweig. She said she found it galling how changes made to the Affordable Health Act during the legislative process have no clear ownership.

“You are so right to be angry over this,” Merkley said. He said answers haven’t been forthcoming, which was why he was insisting so hard for change.

“What can we do as constituents?” Rosenzweig asked.

“Ask your national leaders to lobby both sides of the aisle to make the Senate work,” he said. “If I don’t have the courage of my convictions, then I should shut up and get out of the way.”

When Kris Bledsoe took the microphone, she zeroed in on a local issue of regional import — mining gravel from the Willamette River.

Bledsoe told the senator she was involved in a “protracted battle to protect farmland,” referring to land use litigation stemming from an application by Baker Rock Resources to mine gravel from the old Harding Place on Grand Island.

Bledsoe said repeatedly, she’s been told the battle between two important resources would be eased if the company could remove gravel from the river instead of farmland. The very rules intended to protect salmon are actually harming the species because the gravel is piling up and slowing the river’s flow in the process, she said.

Merkley said he wasn’t familiar with the particulars of the Grand Island issue, but said that something involving two fundamental, conflicting issues was ripe for the governor’s regional solutions network. “I am happy to have my team engage in it,” he said.

While it’s not uncommon for congressmen and women to hold town halls across the country, Oregon’s Senate delegation is known for hosting more than most.

In 1996, Sen. Ron Wyden pledged to hold a town hall in every Oregon county each year. When Merkley joined Wyden in the Senate in 2008, he took the same pledge.

Wyden had a town hall in Newberg last Thursday, and Merkley held one in Corvallis before heading north to McMinnville.

“Most of my colleagues don’t hold town halls,” he said. “This is my 153rd. This is how citizens’ voices can reverberate.”

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