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Students and local residents quiz U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden on wide range of topics.

HOLLY M. GILL/MADRAS PIONEER - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden holds his 930th Oregon town hall in Madras on Friday, Feb. 22, at the Madras Performing Arts Center. The senator spoke about a range of issues, including the newly passed CRR Fire Protection Act. 
At his 930th Oregon town hall, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden covered topics ranging from the recently passed Crooked River Ranch Fire Protection Act, to issues at the Mexican border, to the Mueller investigation.

The Oregon Democrat said that he had worked with the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to include the Crooked River Ranch legislation in the public lands legislation recently passed by the Senate. "The House is going to pass it, and we believe the president of the United States is going to sign it," he said.

The House approved the legislation Feb. 26, and it now goes to the president to sign.

HOLLY M. GILL/MADRAS PIONEER - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, left, prepares to present Stu Steinberg, the vice president of the Crooked River Ranch Club and Maintenance Association, with a U.S. flag that was flown over the Capitol. 
The act will help protect the Ranch from the effects of wildfire, by releasing about 688 acres of public land from within the boundary of the Deschutes Canyon-Steelhead Falls Wilderness Study Area. That land will be managed "to improve fire resiliency and forest health, including the conduct of wildfire prevention and response activities, as appropriate," according to Section 1108 of the bill.

"As soon as we get this signed, we're going to be working with the Bureau of Land Management to get all the fuels treatment done," said Wyden, as "an added measure of security."

Wyden called Stu Steinberg, the vice president of the Crooked River Ranch Club and Maintenance Association, to the stage, and presented him with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.

"I'm proud of all the work that's gone into making this a reality," said Steinberg, noting that the passage of the act and the recently opened second exit at the Ranch together will help keep Ranch residents safe from wildfire.

After his opening remarks, Wyden took questions from some of the approximately 160 community members, including about 90 students and school staff members, in attendance.

Cheryl Lohman, of Madras, on behalf of "Indian women and farming," asked how Native American women who farm can obtain funding. "We're sort of left out of the process when it comes to farming," she said.

Wyden agreed that they should be included and referred her to a staff attorney, Jacob Egler, the senator's field representative for Central and South Central Oregon, who was on hand at the meeting.

Madras High School senior Erika Olivera asked Wyden about his thoughts on the president's border wall.

"I think the wall is a big mistake," said Wyden. "The people who live there, they want border security, but they want things that are effective. The wall was a big symbol of the 2016 campaign; I don't think a wall makes a real, cost-effective contribution."

In response to a question about whether he thinks the president will be removed from office, Wyden said that impeachment begins in the House of Representatives. That means that as a senator, he would be a potential juror, so he needs to refrain from discussing the issue to remain objective.

"The piece to watch is the report by special counsel Robert Mueller," said Wyden, who serves on the Intelligence Committee. "Bob Mueller has indicted people right and left."

Since members of the military are already being paid, a student suggested that they be trained while building a wall.

"There are legal restrictions on how you use the military," said Wyden, pointing out that lawyers are already having "a big debate" about whether they can or should be deployed to the border.

Chris Scranton, of Madras, expressed concern that the Mueller report wouldn't be made public.

"That is a document that the public has a right to know about," said Wyden, who plans to ensure that it is made public. "Clearly there should be redactions ... I'm prepared to go to the floor of the Senate to make sure that document is public. Bob Mueller is a decorated veteran, a Republican. He does it by the book. The American people have a right to get those facts."

Aurolyn Stwyer, of Warm Springs, who has been involved with the testing of unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — on the Warm Springs Reservation test range, said she has been frustrated by the Federal Aviation Administration regulations, particularly regarding line-of-sight regulation.

Wyden said that there is a state bill which he supports. "I've been very much out in front on promoting drone development in rural areas of Oregon," he said, noting that there are important uses for the UAVs, such as assisting in mountain-top rescues, precision agriculture, and fighting wildfire.

"They're talking about what the final rules should look like," he said. "This has real potential for the Oregon economy."

Regarding line-of-sight regulations, Wyden said he's not an expert, but believes there should be a balance between safety and economic growth.

Following a comment about the 2020 election, Wyden said, "I have a dream that everyone will be able to vote the Oregon way — by mail ... I'm going to work to get vote by mail national."

The issue of separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border drew Wyden's ire. "Separating kids from their parents is contrary to everything we hold dear," he said. "The damage done to children is very significant."

"Getting children and adults back together shouldn't be a partisan issue," he continued. "America is better than this business of taking kids from their parents."

A veteran, who said that he has never broken the law with a gun, expressed concern about gun control, and suggested that capital punishment should be on the table for people who commit violent crimes with guns.

Wyden said that new evidence often comes to light showing that some people convicted of crimes shouldn't have been convicted, but he supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Recalling a high school student who was distressed by all the school shootings, and went back to Washington, D.C., to testify to Congress, Wyden said that there should be a common sense way to make schools safer. "I think these young people are going to be the tipping point in this debate," he said.

Anona Frances, a junior at MHS, asked Wyden what he considers the top laws or actions he's written.

Wyden replied that the Secure Rural Schools act, which he wrote, has brought more than $3 billion to Oregon for rural schools and roads, especially.

"A second law was to help businesses do business online," he said. "I wrote a law that ensures Oregon businesses don't get penalized for doing business online."

Wyden is also proud of a bond law he helped pass to allow communities to have better roads, bridges and transportation, and a Medicare law that covers people from acute care to chronic conditions.

The Rev. Michael Hart, of Madras, who has traveled to Israel and met with both the Jewish and Palestinian residents, said he has "seen and experienced the brutality of the Jewish soldiers" toward the Palestinians.

Hart questioned Wyden's support of the anti-BDS laws, which allows states to punish companies that choose to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel or Israeli companies. "Some of the things they've done, they are horrendous," said Hart.

Wyden, whose Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany, and who lost a great-uncle at Auschwitz, said, "I would respectfully suggest another solution. I think we should work toward a two-state solution ... There is so much violence and so much hate. We should have gotten this resolved a long time ago."

"I want you to know I do oppose BDS — boycotting rather than looking for a solution," he said. "If we get a two-state solution, the first thing I'm going to do is to reach out to people like you to try to find common ground."

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