Congresswoman stops at Sauvie Island in tour of 1st District

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., addresses an audience in the Sauvie Island Academy gymnasium Sunday, Oct. 20. Bonamici held a series of town hall meetings over the weekend throughout Oregons 1st District, which she represents in Congress.Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who represents Columbia County and the rest of Oregon's First District in the United States House of Representatives, visited Sauvie Island Sunday, Oct. 20, as part of a series of weekend town hall meetings.

Bonamici opened the hourlong meeting with about 14 minutes of remarks on the recent partial government shutdown, her work in Congress and her feelings about the increasingly polarized tone of national politics.

“The last three to four weeks have been incredibly challenging in Washington, D.C.,” Bonamici told her audience of about 30 people in the Sauvie Island Academy gymnasium.

Many federal bureaus and agencies shut down for more than two weeks this month after House Republicans and Senate Democrats failed to agree on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded.

The stalemate ended last Wednesday, Oct. 16, when Republicans agreed to a bill reopening the government, providing a short-term extension of the federal borrowing authority and setting out a framework for budget negotiations without making significant changes to the Affordable Care Act, the health care law many conservatives wanted to defund or delay as a condition for funding the federal government.

Bonamici decried the shutdown Sunday, saying it “shouldn't have even happened” and blaming the House for not “doing its job” to prevent it.

“I have to say that I'm concerned about what the rest of the world thinks about us — as the United States of America, the greatest country, that we're advising other governments about how great democracy is and why they should have democratic governments, and we can't keep our government open?” Bonamici said. “So I think that that message is really unfortunate, and I hope that it doesn't happen again. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn't.”

Bonamici also criticized the pitched tone leading up to and during the shutdown, noting that some members of Congress described the congressional back-and-forth as a “battle” or urged colleagues not to “surrender.”

“People think it's like a game,” Bonamici said.

Several of the people who addressed Bonamici with questions during the town hall meeting expressed disappointment over the shutdown and dissatisfaction with Congress, while others took advantage of the opportunity to sound out the congresswoman on other topics.

Benjamin Gerritz came from outside Bonamici's district to ask Bonamici for her thoughts on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation trade agreement that would include the U.S., Canada and several other Pacific Rim countries.

Gerritz, a Service Employees International Union member and AIDS activist, expressed concern that the agreement could curtail the development and distribution of generic medicine due to copyright issues.

Bonamici said she wants to be sure the TPP includes “protections” for consumers, labor and the environment and that she “would be extremely concerned” if the agreement limits medicine, but she noted her district in northwestern Oregon has many ports and import-export terminals.

“This is a very trade-dependent district,” said Bonamici.

Bonamici fielded questions from a couple of Sauvie Island residents concerned about the threat of rising water levels swamping the agricultural community.

Jane Hartline, chairwoman of the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, said Sauvie Island would be one of the parts of the state hardest hit by sea level rise.

“For that reason, I think it's really important that we deal with global warming,” Hartline told Bonamici. “Just wanted you to know that.”

In her response to Hartline, Bonamici said she is also concerned about climate change, but noted opposition in Congress, where many Republicans are skeptical of claims by climate scientists and research groups warning that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could lead to runaway warming over the next century and beyond.

“I don't know that this is the Congress in which we're going to make any big changes,” Bonamici said.

Bonamici was not asked about efforts in Congress to address management of the Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands, some 2.6 million acres of federal forestlands in western Oregon, during the town hall meeting. But she spoke about the issue for a couple of minutes before the meeting Sunday, saying she wants to see a “long-term solution” to address declining county revenues from the lands.

“I know it's an issue that's very important to the First District, as well as all of Oregon,” Bonamici said.

Bonamici voted against a forestry management bill earlier this fall that would have relaxed federal regulation of the O&C lands in exchange for increasing the annual payout for counties, including Columbia County, where the lands are located. She cited environmental concerns and a presidential veto threat in explaining her decision to vote no at the time.

Bonamici said Sunday that she and her staff are in touch with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has said he will introduce a Senate version of the forestry bill passed by the House.