Marcus Larson/News-Register##Senator Ron Wyden speaks to students and community members at McMinnville High School on Friday.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Senator Ron Wyden speaks to students and community members at McMinnville High School on Friday.
By Don Iler • News Editor • 

Wyden visits Mac High

He takes pride in conducting town halls in each of Oregon’s 36 counties, and it was Yamhill County’s turn. Questions touched on everything from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and Affordable Care Act to funding for higher education and infrastructure projects like the Newberg-Dundee Bypass.

County Commissioner Stan Primozich asked the first question, saying he would like to see more emphasis on transportation projects.

Wyden said he was supporting a Tiger Grant to finish the bypass and also wanted to see Move America bonds issued to fund transportation projects. “You can’t have a big league economy with a little league infrastructure,” he said.

Peter Hofstetter, CEO at Willamette Valley Medical Center, asked about health care funding.

Wyden said something needs to be done to contain health care costs. He said with 10,000 more people turning 65 every day, it’s vital to hold down the cost of care for seniors, without sacrificing quality.

Curtis Neilson, student body president at the high school, said the Affordable Care Act had cost his family its health insurance and its new plan was twice as expensive as the original.

“The idea was to open up choices for you and your family,” Wyden said. He said he would have his staff look into the situation.

Asked about the state of race relations in the country, Wyden said he agreed with President Barack Obama that it’s better than it once was, but we still have a long way to go. While he did not condone recent riots in Baltimore, he said it revealed a lack of economic opportunity in those communities.

“The ladder of opportunity is getting pretty rusty,” Wyden said.

Several workers from Cascade Steel raised concerns about the trade agreement and how it might affect them. One was concerned about the secrecy surrounding TPP negotiations.

Wyden said the public will be able to review the agreement once it’s complete. He said two 60-day windows are built in, allowing four months for public scrutiny in all.

He likened the negotiations to those that go into producing a new labor contract. He said the talks need to be conducted privately, but once agreement has been reached, everyone gets a chance to look at it and make up his or her own mind.

Asked about Smarter Balance testing and how many students were opting out, Wyden said, “We in this country are on a testing bender.” He said better balance needs to be struck and there is bipartisan support for that in Congress.

Wyden, who in recent weeks has been in the center of a fight over collection of metadata from American cell phones in the interest of national security, was asked what he considers the biggest foreign affairs issues we face. He said China, Iran and Russia posed the major foreign affairs challenges. He said the country needs policies to protect America’s strategic interests in those parts of the world.

He knocked the 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying the reasons given to invade were wrong. He considered his vote against the invasion of Iraq “the most important vote I cast in my time in public service.” He said the country needed to make more disciplined and reasoned decisions.

The town hall was Wyden’s 731st since he took office in 1996.

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