Ron Wyden talks issues with students, public
The federal government shutdown has been a hot topic for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden this past week as he's travelled northwestern Oregon to conduct town halls in Lincoln, Tillamook, Clatsop, Columbia and Yamhill, Washington, Marion counties.
His final stop – and his 920th town hall over the past 20 years – took place at Woodburn High School on Monday, Jan. 7, where questions ranged from health-care issues to the president's intent on building a border wall – and have Mexico pay for it.
"There has not been one bad question in the house today – not one," Wyden asserted as the 1 ½ hour session was coming to a close. "We know we are handing the torch off to you; this is your time.
"I'm walking out of here feeling really good about Woodburn's condition in keeping the 'Oregon Way'…This is the Oregon Way; we talk about things and move ahead."
There was much to talk about, from both the general public and students. The latter group appeared a tad shy at first, but warmed up as the session progressed.
Woodburn student Brenda Martinez posed directly: "What is your opinion about the wall?"
Martinez added that the language used in its justification included "bad hombres," and she wondered "What is up with that?"
Student Madison Bishop posed a similar question, asking about plans to help multi-cultural cities like Woodburn in addition to how he thought about the wall.
Wyden concurred with the students concerns, reiterating that justification for the wall hinged in large part on profiling immigrants from the south as "terrorists," even though there is no evidence to suggest that is the case.
Wyden did note that over the years he's voted for billions of dollars aimed at border security, including fencing and enforcement.
"But I think this wall is a mistake," he said.
He evoked a story about his father, who he said had to flee Nazi Germany, and how as an immigrant he became a model citizen. Earlier he spoke in advocacy of legal immigrants, noting that they study and work hard, volunteer and many even want to serve in the military.
"My dad, who fled the Nazis, became one of the most red-white-and-blue citizens you could find," Wyden said. "When I think about how my dad would view this wall, I think he would see it like putting a stop sign in front of the Statue of Liberty."
Among the public at large in attendance was a woman who said she worked in a "natural resources agency" and has been idle since government shutdown.
Wyden said this past week he visited areas that leaned toward Donald Trump and areas that favored Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, but universally the residents he interacted with did not favor a government shutdown.
"The first order of business is to get the government reopened…overwhelmingly people are saying get the government open first," he said, noting that once that is done lawmakers can talk more about the concept of a border wall.
"I'd like to see the government open tomorrow," he added. "(Sen.) Mitch McConnell has the ability to open the government tomorrow."
Itemizing some shutdown setbacks, the senator cited training for wildland firefighters, Coast Guard services in coastal communities and the clerks who process tax-return checks.
"You're tax refund can't be sent because those people who process them have been laid off," he said.
Other topics touched on included:
"We're going to try to take Oregon's vote-by-mail nationally," Wyden boomed. "Everybody gets a ballot at their house."
Public education funding
one student asked about public education, which prompted the senator to first break down the historical dependence on timber for services such as education, roads, police and libraries, and the importance of ensuring a rural schools funding is made available to compensate for lost timber revenue, due in part to stricter environmental-protection laws.
"Our graduation rate is not where it should be…I don't like us being in the cellar," Wyden added, noting that enhanced assistance should be made available for schools with low graduation rates.
The senator touted laws that ensure everyone is treated fairly with regards to internet access, avoiding an "information aristocracy.
"The Trump administration has made the judgement that those people are terrorists…even though there is no evidence to suggest this.
"Separation of children from parents is wrong, wrong, wrong. I'm doing what I can to end these abusive practices. There is no basis for separating a child from a parent. Period. End of discussion," Wyden said, eliciting applause.
Wyden also tied in a family member with mental health issues to this topic, introduced by one attendee, then described an approach that instilled a community environment into low-income housing and a stronger overall emphasis on mental health issues.
One student expressed a concern about some playgrounds where sparse funding means no soccer nets.
Wyden said getting the maximum funding for secure rural schools will also affect playgrounds. He also recommended urging soccer players to attend school-board meetings when funding decisions are made, asserting that "political change is not top down, it's almost always bottom up."
One universal health care advocate firmly urged continued and strengthened efforts to expand Medicare for all.
Wyden asked for a show of hands on how many believe that health care is a basic human right? A nearly unanimous show followed. He then posed how many thought enough money was being earmarked to it, which also drew a fair number of raised hands.
He then noted that the US spends $3.5 trillion on health care, and that there are roughly 320 million citizens in the country.
"We are spending enough," he said; "we are not spending it in the right direction (to be effective)."
Wyden touched on the history of the employer-based health care system and its shortfalls.
He criticized lawmakers who opposed and tried to repeal elements of the Affordable Care Act, and appeared favorable to broadening Medicare, initially adding ages 55 to 65 for coverage.
"There is nothing more important to my heart than fixing health care," Wyden said.