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Jefferson County constituents ask about water issues, cannabis, broadband and education

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER - Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden held a virtual town hall in Jefferson County April 5.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden discussed topics ranging from irrigation water and tax relief to the postmaster general and the Greater Idaho Movement during a live online town hall for Jefferson County residents Monday morning, April 5.

Wyden and People's Town Hall hosted the hour-long Facebook live event at 10:30 a.m. Monday. Wyden tuned in from the KWSO radio station office in Warm Springs, answering questions of constituents.

"With town halls, we shorten the distance between here and Washington, D.C.," Wyden said as he welcomed attendees and pointed to some concerns that face the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Jefferson County.

Carina Miller, of Warm Springs, asked about water infrastructure on the reservation. Wyden said there are three bills in legislation that aim to earmark funds for drinking water infrastructure.

Miller also mentioned the equity issues tribes have with the cannabis, to which Wyden replied that the cannabis prohibition needs to be removed.

North Unit Irrigation District Manager Mike Britton pointed out the chronic water shortages and asked how the Water for Conservation and Farming Act would benefit district farmers.

"My Water for Conservation and Farming Act makes it possible for our famers and North Unit to be eligible for funds so they'd get the money on the ground to design the best possible systems to deal with a shortage," Wyden said. "The farmers and all of you at North Unit Irrigation do a pretty amazing job trying to squeeze every bit of water out and look at solutions."

He said he'd help come up with the funding but allow the irrigators and farmers to put their creative juices together to come up with a solution that would work for them.

A visually impaired, single mother from Madras told Wyden she and her elementary-age child were having challenges with distance learning, and she did not feel her child was getting adequate services. Wyden invited her to send him her contact information so he could assist her in walking through the system to get additional help for her child.

"Can we get rid of the postmaster general?" Judy Embanks, of Madras, asked. Wyden said it's harder than it would seem to remove a person in that position because of the structure of the U.S. postal system.

"We are trying to surround Mr. DeJoy with a whole different array of priorities which we can pass in Congress to make it harder for him to privatize the system," Wyden said.

Craig Mackie asked what needs to be done with the filibuster.

"I'm for the talking filibuster," Wyden said. "If a senator feels strongly about a subject, they ought to be able to get the floor."

When addressing unaccompanied refugee children, Wyden said the country needs a secure border with humane security.

Some attendees wanted to know what can be done about the Greater Idaho Movement, which would move part of Eastern Oregon to Idaho.

"I think Eastern Oregon is such a special part of Oregon. Should this pick up, I will be on the front lines saying Eastern Oregon is a special part of the Oregon way," Wyden said, noting the recreation activities in the area. "Eastern Oregon is in our DNA. We're not giving it up."

The necessity to expand rural broadband was also mentioned. Wyden believes broadband should be a national priority like electricity was decades ago.

Wyden concluded by saying, "I wanted to come today to say to the Warm Springs Tribes and Jefferson County that I'll do everything I possibly can to move the machinery of the federal government around … to deliver hope and real solutions and fixes to the challenges of our times."


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