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Hundreds of high school students, along with community members, attend and ask questions

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden speaks at a town hall meeting in Scappoose on Friday, Feb. 2. During the event high school students and community members were given the chance to ask questions about a variety of topics. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden spent an hour and a half hosting a public town hall public at Scappoose High School Friday, Feb. 2, and answered questions from community members and high school students.

The high school's auditorium was packed full of hundreds of students who took time from the school day to attend the town hall alongside nearly 40 members of the public.

Audience members were selected to ask questions by drawing tickets from a bowl alternating between a student question and a citizen question. People asked questions regarding policies and ways to improve access to Medicare, benefits for veterans, and how to address the opioid epidemic.

Throughout the 90-minute discussion, Wyden also touched on subjects such as improving health care coverage for all people, including those with chronic illnesses; creating a more substantial background check system for people wishing to obtain guns; implementing a better system to fund wildfire prevention; and the importance of protecting public lands and monuments.

Wyden additionally discussed the importance of being civically engaged, and drew cheers when he spoke about improving voter participation nationwide.

"The reality is, when people say I'm not going to vote, that someone else will, their vote will essentially count more," Wyden said. "A lot of this is about looking at the issues and saying, this will affect me and my family."

One audience member asked how people can differentiate between what's illegal, immoral, and what can be perceived as "tacky" in the public eye. Another questioned how a lack of bipartisanship can be overcome in the political arena. Wyden referenced his own practices as an example.

"What I feel strongly about, and what I want my time in service to be about, is trying to break through this gridlock," Wyden said, referring to bipartisan work to produce results beneficial to the public.

Following the forum, Wyden said he frequently hosts town hall meetings like this as a way to meet face-to-face with constituents and voters and talk about issues that concern them. The forums also provide an opportunity for him to provide specific examples of his work in the Senate.

"You can't do this job well sitting behind a desk in Washington," Wyden said. "No matter how much technology we have, there's no substitute for an elected official standing up and letting the people they represent look them in the eye and ask their questions."

Wyden added that he was impressed by the students' questions and could tell that they had prepared for the event.

Friday morning's town hall marked the 867th Wyden has hosted since he was first elected to office in 1996. Wyden was slated to host a similar town hall at David Douglas High School on Friday night.

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