US Senator Jeff Merkley holds ‘Town Hall’ in Parkrose

You might be surprised at how many people showed up at Parkrose High School – on a beautiful Saturday – to see the freshman Senator from Oregon, and give him an earful. Find out what was on the minds of several who spoke up, right here …

One of the many groups that arrived, en mass, at US Senator Jeff Merkley’s Town Hall, were these young people from the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Talk about local issues was minimal, at the Town Hall session held by freshman US Senator Jeff Merkley on Saturday, June 5, in the Parkrose High School Commons.

> To read about Merkley’s first Town Hall he held after being elected of office, held on June 27, 2009: CLICK HERE.

While some groups protested outside the school, and handed out anti-Israel literature, others signed in and found seats. Before the meeting, Merkley met with selected supporters, and invited elected officials into a private, closed meeting.

Members of the Parkrose High Debutantes choir, under the direction of Lesley Bossert, sing an excellent arrangement of The National Anthem.

Parkrose School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray welcomes US Senator Jeff Merkley.

At 11:22 a.m. Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, superintendent of the Parkrose School District, stepped up to a podium set up in the school’s Commons, and introduced the senator – outlining his life’s story, from being born in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, to serving as an intern for Senator Mark Hatfield, to being elected to the post of US Senator.

US Senator Jeff Merkley (D) receives a thunderous round of applause as he steps to the podium.

“It’s great to see you all today,” Merkley began. “It’s a pretty good turnout here in Multnomah County. I want to note that we’ll get to questions and comments shortly.”

In his opening statements, Merkley talked about his Senatorial activities dealing with issues such as banking financial reform, education, and national security.

2009 Parkrose Portland Rose Festival Princess Ciera Dines asks about Senator Merkley’s work with education.

Princess draws participation tickets
Last year’s Portland Rose Festival Princess, Ciera Dines, was chosen to draw tickets from a basket to determine in what order attendees could ask their questions or make comments.

Dines started out with the question, “When is the conversation to be held regarding education?”

Merkley responded, “There are two key conversations. One is about policy, and one is about resources. In the conversation about resources … there is the Harkin education jobs amendment through which we would invest about $23 million in assisting states with their K-12 education funds. It’s about keeping our schools open for a whole year, while we are still in recession. I’m a full supporter of this amendment.

“Regarding ‘No Child Left Behind’, the problem the parents and educators have been pointing to is that it essentially aggregates the data. We use the system to penalize the school. The school may be succeeding in nine areas, but falling short in the last – [and then] they’re labeled a failure. My goal is to truly have no Child Left Behind produce data about how each student is progressing.

Merkley listens, as a participant decries the Gaza blockade and Israel’s actions.

Quizzed about supporting Israel
The first participant read an impassioned speech regarding Gaza blockade in the Middle East, and urged Merkley to stop sending money to what he characterized as “the criminal regime, the state of Israel”.

The individual was met with mixed response to his statement. Merkley asked for the audience to be respectful of people who have differing opinions.

“It’s a very sad and unfortunate situation,” Merkley remarked. “We need to have a thorough, independent, and transparent investigation, so that we really understand all of the pieces of what proceeded. Understanding – that is the foundation for having a foundation about how we go forward.”

Merkley’s answer didn’t satisfy an organized group of participants, judging by comments and questions that followed during the town hall.

The sign held by this woman exemplifies the feelings more than one person expressed about the federal government’s meddling with Portland’s Bull Run drinking water

‘Don’t mess with Bull Run water’
Saying that Portland’s Bull Run drinking water is safe, and treatment is unnecessary, a participant decried what he insisted was the federal government’s interference how the City manages its water system – including mandating the covering of reservoirs.

Merkley said, “I’ve got involved in this issue, not in the covering of the [City’s open] reservoirs, but with protecting the Bull Run Reservoirs.

“The Department of Environment wanted to have Portland water treated at the source with ultraviolet radiation, or with chemicals. I asked the EPA’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, to come and see Bull Run. Bull Run is a ‘green investment’ in water quality.  She didn’t see it herself, but she saw sent one of her top aides he came out – he said ‘Wow!’ Since then, the EPA has granted a waiver in their cryptosporidium requirements.

“I’m hoping there is no cryptosporidium coming out of Bull Run, because [the EPA] is measuring and monitoring it very carefully.”

Rather than commenting on the covering of City reservoirs, Merkley said he’d talk concerned individuals after the meeting.

Centennial Community Association’s VP, Ron Clemenson, inquires about Senator Merkley’s views on the controversial new Arizona immigration law.

Asks about illegal immigrant issues
Ron Clemenson, a community volunteer with the Centennial Community Association, asked Merkley about his views on Arizona’s “tough laws on illegal immigrants”.

Merkley said he looks the issue of immigration reform as being comprised of several components.

“I am for integrity at the [United States] borders; integrity with employment; and, a path to being here legally. People should go through a series of tests regarding their past behavior, their public record if you will, and their ability to converse in English. They would go to the ‘end of the line’, behind people who’ve been legally waiting [to be come citizens].

“I don’t believe you can send 12 million people back across the border.  I do believe that we have to restore the rule of law and immigration.

Senator Merkley listens while being questioned about health care reform.

Health Care Reform
“Would you support senators and congressmen dropping their fancy health care plans and going on the National Health Care System?” a participant asked

The senator said he believed in providing a “public marketplace for insurance policies” that would allow healthcare to be delivered more effectively. “I think it would be great for all congressmen and women, and all senators, to choose the same insurance plans that are available to their constituents.”

Whether they were satisfied with Merkley’s views on issues or not, constituents conceded the senator fielded all questions – and did what he promised: Listened carefully to the views of the citizenry, many of them from here, in outer East Portland.

> To view Senator Merkley’s website: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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