Oregon’s new US Senator holds a ‘town hall’ at his alma mater

Find out what US Senator Jeff Merkley had to say, when he hosted a community meeting at David Douglas High School on June 27 …

US Senator Jeff Merkley makes his first Portland-area public appearance in the cafeteria of the school from which he graduated, David Douglas High.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A group of about 60 supporters and supplicants gathered in David Douglas High School’s south cafeteria on June 27, providing somewhat of a homecoming to outer East Portland legislator, now United States Senator, Jeff Merkley.

Attendees sat at cafeteria tables, waiting ten minutes past the announced 11:00 a.m. hour for the senator to appear. At a private reception in another room, Merkley finished meeting and greeting key supporters, and providing hospitality for city, county, regional, and state leaders and legislators.

Oregon Representative Jefferson Smith introduces Senator Merkley.

‘Everything we want in a US Senator’
The man who now represents Merkley’s former House District in the Oregon Legislature, Oregon Representative Jefferson Smith, stepped up to introduce the senator.

“Jeff Merkley has everything we want in a US Senator,” extolled Smith, saying that Merkley’s qualities including being smart, hard-working, and honest, and having an aptitude for foreign policy. “We need someone who understands regular people.”

Senator Jeff Merkley begins his presentation by recounting the story of how and why he got into politics.

High school politics jumpstarts his political career
“Thank you for coming out and being part of this conversation.” Merkley began. “It’s a pleasure to come right back into the school district where I went to school from third grade through high school graduation. We’re just a down the hall and around the corner from the place where I decided to run for my first office, right here in high school.”

Merkley recounted how a classmate asked for his support, but showed distain for less popular students.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have somebody who wants to make a difference in office, rather than someone who just wants to hold a position of importance? It is that a philosophy that has driven me through the years.”

The freshman senator said that he, like President Abraham Lincoln, was concerned that the “voice of the lobbyists are crowding out the voice of the people. Lincoln was concerned about it, he considered it a bigger threat to the success of our nation than the civil war. I tell you that this is a huge, huge issue.”

Merkley speaks to a group made up, primarily, of supporters and friends.

Healthcare discussion dominates meeting
Merkley said told the group he targeted three primary issues with which to be involved: Healthcare, finance, and environment/energy. He successfully lobbied for, and was assigned to, committees dealing with these topics.

“Last week, I worked on healthcare issues,” Merkley stated. “I’d like to see more investment in prevention – not in our current system. I’d like to see more attention to disease management.”

The largest share of healthcare costs come from just four major diseases, Merkley told his group of supporters. “Another piece [of the puzzle] is how to create a system to help 47 million Americans without healthcare to get it.”

Merkley said he favors creating a “healthcare exchange” – or “public option” – over a “single-payer” system. “Being part of a pool will save money. Small businesses can benefit from being part of an exchange.”

Most attendees appear pleased when Merkley criticizes the private health care insurance system.

However, some senators want only private insurance options, he opined. “I’m in favor of a Medicare-like option. If citizens have a choice, and if they can choose a public option, it will make insurance more competitive.”

Decrying private health insurance, Merkley said, “It is a cost-plus healthcare system. If I am a provider, I have incentives to do as many tests as possible – run patients through the MRI as many times as possible – because I get more money, every time that happens.”

All in attendance indicated they were in favor of either the Public Option or Single-Payer system of health care, and lauded Merkley’s efforts on their behalf.

Jolie Fay of “Skipping Hippos” sits, after asking Merkley to help ease restrictions that force small clothing manufacturers to submit their products to expensive laboratory tests to determine whether or not they contain lead.

Listens to concerns
One attendee asked Merkley if he could find a way to help Portland deal with the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for either irradiating water or filtering water to eliminate cryptosporidium. The senator said he’d speak with Senator Barbara Boxer regarding the issue.

As his time drew to a close, Merkley briefly heard concerns of a military veteran, a mother with an autistic child, and a small business person vexed by overreaching government regulations.

Merkley tells why he believes “this country is in trouble”.

Sticking up for the little guy
Summing up, Merkley told his followers, “If there is a large framework of what I’m trying to do, it’s to create for you a country ‘that works’ for working Americans.

“And that this country is in trouble. Over the last three decades, working Americans have seen productivity surge in this country – seen the total gross domestic product surge in this country – but the wages for working people has been flat. It’s been flat since 1974, the year that I graduated from this high school.

“The majority of Americans are not sharing in the product of our country. It is policies [established by past leaders] that have driven this [trend]. I want to keep fighting to make America work for working people. As you know, I come to politics as a policy person.

“For me to succeed in this, I will need help and your support. I thank those of you who’ve been involved in helping me over the years.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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