The senator addresses a broad range of questions during his 899th town hall since 1996

HOLLY SCHOLZ - Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden held a town hall Friday afternoon at the Crook County Library, inviting folks to ask him about any topic of concern.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden held his 899th town hall Friday afternoon when he met with Crook County constituents in Prineville.

The 90-minute event drew nearly 100 people to the Crook County Library Broughton Room and covered a variety of topics, from wildfires and gun violence to trade and marijuana.

The senator kicked off the event by telling attendees that the town hall was a time for them to educate him and that no subjects were off limits.

"We will throw open the doors of government, and in every county every year, we will do it the way the Founding Fathers wanted us to do it," he said.

The Portland Democrat was elected senator in 1996. He serves on several committees, including finance, budget, intelligence, and energy and natural resources.

A local man asked for the senator's help with timber sales, saying, "We cannot cut anything bigger than a 21-inch tree."

Wyden noted that he's working on some flexibility on the 21-inch rule and shared what he called some recent good news for a common sense fire policy.

"First, Congress has passed and the president has signed into law my bill to finally end fire borrowing," Wyden said, explaining that the bill will treat big wildfires like disasters and use funds from the disaster fund rather than borrowing from the prevention fund.

Secondly, that bill came with what Wyden called good management reforms, such as the Good Neighbor Policy. Finally, Congress re-upped his Secure Rural Schools Bill for two years.

A Camp Sherman resident said he was angry about the environmental legislation that came about in the mid-90s that he said is responsible for what's happening today in forests.

"Millions of acres are being destroyed through fire management," the man said.

Wyden pointed out that his fire borrowing bill was supported by conservative Republicans and many timber industry groups — not environmental groups.

A woman then asked what Wyden is doing to get Citizens United overturned, money out of politics, and less lobbying and gerrymandering.

Wyden said the Citizens United Supreme Court Case "basically said the rich person's checkbook is exactly the same thing as the poor person's soap box."

He thinks that is absurd.

"The rich person's checkbook buys a whole lot more speech and a whole lot more content than the poor person's soap box, so I have repeatedly voted to overturn Citizens United," Wyden said. "I'm going to keep pushing for campaign finance reform in every possible way."

A retired resident then said he had concerns about Medicare being there for him.

"I've got good news from Medicare," Wyden said, whose early service career was focused on working with the elderly. "Medicare today in 2018 is hugely different than Medicare when the program began in 1965. … The entire program is no longer an acute care program. It is a chronic care program."

He helped develop what he calls an Update to the Medicare Guarantee, which focuses on chronic conditions. The bill allows for more elderly people to be taken care of at home and for non-physician providers and telemedicine to play a bigger role in Medicare.

"That's going to help stretch the healthcare dollar," he said.

Another woman said she is concerned about violence in schools and how the topic always turns into gun control rather than addressing why kids are turning to violence.

Wyden pointed out that in some recent shootings, schools, police and the community knew there was a problem but nobody connected the dots until it was too late. He wants to address that aspect of the violence issue.

"People who own gun shops in rural areas tell me that they very often know who shouldn't be able to get a gun," Wyden said.

A woman then asked about the tax cut bill and how it's going to impact low-income senior citizens.

"I believe you build your tax program around the middle class," Wyden said. "The bulk of this tax bill has gone to people at the very top. ... I want a tax bill that gives everybody a chance to get ahead."

A retired military officer asked about the recent tariff war and if Congress is involved in the decisions or if it is solely an executive branch decision.

"I'm going to be asking some tough questions. We'll look at legality of what the president can do unilaterally," Wyden said, adding that he believes the policy is a mistake. "What is so odd about what he (President Donald Trump) just did, which is announce these tariffs against our allies, is these are the very people we need to join us as we take on China and these rip-off trade practices."

Others asked about restoring trust in the government, how to get the younger generations involved, and what he can do to get sea lions out of Northwest rivers. Children on the border, immigration reform, and Veterans Affairs were also addressed.

Crook County District Attorney Wade Whiting asked the final question, about the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley cosponsored that would legalize marijuana throughout the country.

"What provisions, if any, are there in your Marijuana Justice Act that would help prevent use of marijuana by teens," Whiting asked, noting that the community has seen an uptick in minors in possession of marijuana.

Wyden said the law is very much in line with the spirit of Oregon voters, and he very much supports drug prevention programs.

Wyden called it a privilege to represent the folks of Crook County.

"I always like Prineville because Prineville is kind of a community known for problem solving," he said.

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