Wyden’s town hall packs David Douglas gym

See the response US Senator Ron Wyden received from his outer East Portland audience …

In the cavernous David Douglas High School gymnasium in the Hazelwood neighborhood, a crowd of US Senator Ron Wyden supporters fills the building to the rafters.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Perhaps it was a misprint, but it had appeared as if US Senator Ron Wyden’s noon town hall, scheduled for February 25, was to be held in the 350-seat Horner Performing Arts Center Auditorium at David Douglas High School (DDHS).

Most of those who arrived, filling every parking lot and lining neighborhood streets on both sides of the DDHS campus, seemed relieved to find the venue had been changed to the 3,000+ seat gymnasium at the school.

As the town hall got underway, all folding chairs on the floor, and most of the bleachers, were packed with attendees.

In the cavernous David Douglas High School gymnasium, Senator Ron Wyden is greeted with a surprise visit from former Wheeler County Judge Jeanne Burch, host of his first-ever town hall, back in 1996.

Surprising Senator Wyden at the event was former Wheeler County Judge Jeanne Burch.

“All I can tell you is that this was not part of the program that I was given!” Wyden exclaimed. “But, when you’re with Jeanne Burch, you are running with the right crowd!”

Saying that it was the 11th town hall meeting he’d held eight days, Wyden said, “Looking out  at all of you here, this is what our forefathers called ‘Representative Democracy’.”

Oregon State Representative Jeff Reardon makes introductory remarks, reminding the crowd that he was a teacher for 10 years at David Douglas High.

To formally open the town hall, Oregon State Representative Jeff Reardon told how he’d been a teacher – the last 10 years of it, teaching shop classes ad DDHS.

“We are in a school district with a large immigrant population, and more than 70 languages spoken,” Reardon said. “Regardless of ethnic origin, race, or orientation, our students perform well above what the demographics might suggest.”

DDHS students present a stack of letters, in purple envelopes, to Sen. Wyden, supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, started by the Obama administration in June, 2012.

Without making an introductory speech, Senator Wyden begins taking questions from the audience.

Unlike Senator Jeff Merkley, at the town hall meeting he held at Franklin High School Marshall Campus in the Lents neighborhood on January 28, Wyden did not launch into a diatribe against President Donald Trump and changing Washington D.C. politics.

“I’ve come to hear what you have to say, so let’s start taking questions,” Wyden began.

The first audience member expressed her concern about changes in Medicaid and how it might affect disabled adults under the Oregon Health Plan.

Senator Wyden answers a constituent’s question.

“In Washington DC, I’m the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee with jurisdiction over Medicaid, which is the Oregon Health Plan. For me, this is a really pretty basic question; I’m working to keep benefits for those who need it most,” Wyden responded.

Instead of repealing the Affordable Care Act, Wyden said he was calling on his colleagues to keep portions of it, including requiring health insurance companies to cover new enrollees with pre-existing medical conditions.

“We’re not going to go back to the days when healthcare was only for the healthy and the wealthy,” Wyden proclaimed.

To his audience, Senator Wyden says, “This is what our forefathers called ‘representative democracy’.

Wyden also responded to questions and statements regarding alleged connections between the Russian government and President Donald Trump, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, and other issues.

“I’m co-chair of the whistleblower caucus,” Wyden said in response to a comment. “And I have lingering concerns that we’re going to need whistleblowers in the days ahead,” he said.

With the audience clearly on Wyden’s side, he encouraged his followers to continue in “the Oregon way”.

The meeting might have run longer, except that the gym had been reserved for the DDHS basketball team to practice.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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