Wyden holds town hall at Warm Springs K-8 Academy
During his second official visit to Jefferson County this year, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden held his 61st town hall of the year at Warm Springs K-8 Academy Aug. 10, fielding questions on water rights, health care, economics and the current political climate.
Randy Smith, of Warm Springs, expressed concern about the economic damage that occurs when the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs' senior water rights in the Deschutes River Basin are not recognized.
"Our kids have no hopes of owning a home or a new car," said Smith, adding that he's thinking about a class action lawsuit. "If you don't recognize our senior water rights, our kids will have nothing."
For more than 20 years, Smith has been speaking up for the tribes' status as holders of senior water rights, which he believes could bring more prosperity to the tribes. Irrigation districts in the Deschutes Basin, which have "junior" water rights, have brought economic benefits to their areas.
"Obviously, water is important," said Wyden, a Portland Democrat, adding that he would assign a staff attorney to work with Smith.
Wyden suggested several other possible ways for the tribes to improve their economy — by focusing on recreation, health care and unmanned aerial vehicles.
In July, Wyden and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced the Recreation Not Red Tape Act to remove barriers to outdoor recreation. "Recreation is responsible for 100,000 jobs in Oregon," he said, later adding, "I know that this area benefits tremendously from recreation."
"Health care can be one of the big economic engines," Wyden continued, pointing out that Medicare and Medicaid create jobs while enhancing people's quality of life.
As for the UAVs, or drones, the reservation was designated as one of three Oregon test ranges for unmanned aerial systems in 2013. More recently, he pushed for continued research and development of the systems.
Stressing the importance of infrastructure, Kahseuss Jackson asked for Wyden's support. "We probably have 1950s, 1960s infrastructure," said Jackson, noting that budgets are half what they were a few years ago. "Anything you could do would go a long way for our economy."
Mike Clements and Jackson, both of Warm Springs, also pointed out that it's difficult for the tribes to obtain financial backing.
"I'll see what we can do to get some economic development momentum," said Wyden.
Crooked River Ranch resident Lottie Hermannsson asked about House Resolution 2075, the Crooked River Ranch Fire Protection Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, which would exclude about 832 acres from the eastern boundary of the Deschutes Canyon-Steelhead Falls Wilderness Study Area.
Noting that the bill was "ostensibly for fire protection," Hermannsson commented that releasing the land "would make more of a fire danger. It was a win-win the way we were moving (before the resolution was introduced)."
Wyden referred her to a staff member.
Veteran Kevin Smith, also of Crooked River Ranch, was worried about what happens when "two supposed adults get together and start throwing rocks" — a reference to North Korea's missile threats and the president's response.
"We have to find a way to keep peace," said Wyden, who believes that the first choice is negotiations. "Ultimately, both sides have to walk away with something."
Pointing out that the president talked about a pre-emptive strike against North Korea early in his term, Wyden expressed confidence in the president's national security advisor, Gen. H.R. McMaster. "He went on TV and threw a lot of cold water on that," said Wyden.
Responding to a question on health care, Wyden was proud that the Senate was able to stop Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's attempts to repeal and replace, or just repeal, the Affordable Care Act, commonly called "Obamacare."
"Rural Oregon has one of the highest percentages of people invested in the expansion of Medicaid," he said. "We have to first move in an affirmative way — stabilize the insurance market and hold down prices. Not only stop something that's bad, but go forward in an affirmative way."
Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, wants to ensure that Congress doesn't repeal Obamacare and pass a plan that hurts constituents.
Wyden encouraged attendees to continue to register their desires with their representatives. "I think political change is bottom up, not trickle down," he said.