Wyden and Merkley take outer East Portland’s political temperature

After listening to outer East Portland neighbors, U.S. Congressman Ron Wyden and Oregon Rep. Jeff Merkley explain the “facts of life” in politics. You might be surprised at their comments ‚Ķ

Oregon Rep. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden came to the Hazelwood neighborhood to hear what’s on the minds of outer East Portland residents. They got an earful.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
From universal health care, to concern about U.S. border security, Oregon Rep. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden heard many concerns when they held a town hall meeting at St. Therese’s social hall last month.

Arlene Kamura, chair of Hazelwood Neighborhood Association (speaking only for herself), urged, “on the state level, we need to invest in our young people and senior citizens. Nationally, we need better health care for everyone.”

Vice chair of the Centennial Neighborhood Association Ron Clemenson said, on his own behalf, that crime prevention is his own top priority here in outer East Portland. Border security was his concern for the nation.

Alicia Reese, chair of Woodland Hills Neighborhood Association, and a board member of the Parkrose School district, said her personal opinion was the state needed to focus on creating a system of equitable school funding. “Both on the state and federal levels, we need to stop creating unfunded mandates for schools.”

Bipartisanship: a reality
Several attendees drifted into making partisan statements; a few went engaged in rants against Republicans and the current federal administration.

Wyden explained, “Anything that gets done in Washington DC happens because there was a bipartisan effort. Both sides must agree. Take the cost of prescription drugs for example. I’ve been working with Olympia Snow, a Republican Senator from Maine, to lift the restrictions on importing medicines, and bargaining to bring down the cost of medicine.”

As another example, Wyden said that John Kyle, a Republican from Arizona, agrees with him that that they should look at recent, huge oil company profits. “And, I’ve worked with Senator Smith on legislation to protect Mt. Hood.”

Oregon Representative Jeff Merkley chimed in, “We don’t want this meeting to turn into a partisan battlefield. By working together, we move the State of Oregon forward.”

Next to state her personal opinion was the Chair of Argay’s neighborhood, Valery Curry. “I’m concerned about ethics in politics. It seems that lawmakers and officials make decisions for their own good, not necessarily the good of the people.” Curry also expressed her personal a concern regarding sex offenders. “Why can’t we put them away where they can’t continue to offend, permanently? It seems no one is watching them.”

Merkley responded that Oregon’s legislature passed a bill making certain sex crimes punishable by a 25-year prison sentence. “And, we’re exploring a lifetime tracking system for these offenders. By the way, Internet solicitation is not a crime, and we’re working to make it a crime; but this is a complex issue.”

Teena Ainsley arose and told the legislators about her experience of working in and around outer East Portland school systems for the past 53 years – and to give her personal view: “My concern is education. Here, [in outer East Portland] I see high-density low-income housing burdening our schools. Many of our students have special needs which are expensive to accommodate. When I look at my tax statement, I see I pay $1.74 for Mt Hood Community College. But I pay ten times more for PDC development. We’re not funding the schools in high-density, low- income housing areas.”

Several community members took up a harangue against the current federal administration’s foreign policy, especially the war efforts in the middle East.

The two legislatures listen, and respond, to comments made by neighbors from across outer East Portland.

Wyden of foreign policy
“I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Wyden said. “We go into a room built and secured like a vault. I’m barred from talking about what I learn from those meetings. I can’t even respond when my 17-year-old asks at dinner, ‘so Dad, how about letting me know about your so-called intelligence committee’.

“We live in a dangerous world out there. There are many people who do not wish our citizens or our country well. The question is: How do we find the right mix of ‘soft power’ ‚Äì agreements and treaties ‚Äì with ‘hard power’ ‚Äì having to defend yourself?

“Had I known five years ago, on 9/8, what was going to happen on 9/11, I would have supported taking any action to prevent it.  I voted against going to war in Iraq. I’m glad Sadam Hussan is behind bars. But, he wasn’t close to being the biggest threat to our security. I would have ranked Iraq sixth. My side didn’t prevail.”

After talking about economic policies, prescription drug prices and a “fair flat tax” system, Wyden again brought up the need for bipartisan cooperation. “Senator Smith and I don’t agree on everything. But, we sit down ever Thursday, in the Senate dining room, and we work on Oregon’s agenda for the week: Health, schools, roads, crime, and such. That is the way it should be.”

Wyden tells the audience that Jeff Merkley is a great Oregon legislator. “Jeff is the ‘gold standard’ of state legislators,” he said.

While nothing was resolved, and most residents left the room with their opinions unchanged, almost everyone agreed that a discussion of critical political topics is healthy in a free society. And, this, we believe, is the purpose of a “town hall” forum.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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