The “town hall” senator stayed true to his name as Sen. Ron Wyden landed in Manzanita Friday.
By Brian Cameron
Lovingly given the title by his constituents, Sen. Wyden said he has conducted more than 800 formal events throughout the state during his lengthy tenure as Oregon’s top senator. On a sunny summer Friday, he stood in the Pine Grove Community House to hear questions from community members.
“This is the year of representative democracy,” Sen. Wyden said. “We’re seeing an unprecedented interest in communities across Oregon and so far I’ve had an open meeting in every county, every year.”
Formally introduced by Mayor Michael Scott, Sen. Wyden appreciated a well-mannered, yet sizeable, crowd that was relegated to standing room only. According to representatives with the Manzanita Police Department, they were forced to turn some folks away as the building met its capacity shortly before Sen. Wyden took the podium.
Speaking on a wide variety of subjects, he broached everything from local topics of interest to much more broad national level issues that many in Manzanita felt they seldom get a chance to express.
“I thought I’ve seen everything,” Sen. Wyden said after a community member asked him how he prioritizes his work when so much turmoil is happening at the upper level of American government. Commenting on the overall disassociation of top Washington politics, Sen. Wyden suggested to the crowd that since the incoming of President Donald Trump, they have not accomplished even one piece of legislation, which according to Sen. Wyden is almost unprecedented that an executive level cabinet hasn’t even passed a roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill.
“It is the most flagrant example of political malpractice I have ever seen,” Sen. Wyden said. “Political change in America needs to come from the bottom up, not the top down.”
Sen. Wyden fielded a number of questions from the community that asked of his thoughts on things like the Citizen’s United ruling, which he called “an abomination,” and that the growing corporate influence in Washington was entering record levels, it was through this kind of influence that Sen. Wyden suggested might be the root cause for the unexpected and, to many, offensive remarks in the wake of the Charlottesville protests which saw a self-described white supremacist drive a car into a crowd of Antifa (anti-fascism) protestors, resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old college student.
“You simply cannot defend the executive response from Charlottesville,” said Sen. Wyden.
There were a few community members who were curious about the senator’s stance on the commercial boycott of Israel, in which he clearly stated is for a two-state solution but also acknowledged the real complexity of the issue and how it’s easy to see it as a much simpler problem than it actually is.
Many of the topics Sen. Wyden covered never reach the shores of the Oregon Coast, however some of the questions from the community suggested there’s more ties to national level issues here than there may seem.
Pertaining to the concepts of deforestation and aerial spraying cut timber-units, Sen. Wyden mentioned that issues like these are the kinds of things he became Senator for. Ultimately those topics are left to the individual states to figure out but in relation to human public health effects he asked the questioner whether or not they would be willing to follow up with more information, he said.
The town hall spanned more than an hour as Sen. Wyden tried to answer as many questions as he could and when the event finished up there was a line of people waiting to briefly say a few words and get a photo with him.
Afterward Sen. Wyden gave the Headlight-Herald an exclusive interview in which he answered just a few additional questions.
On continued funding for programs that mean a great deal to local citizens in Tillamook County such as WIC, Meals on Wheels, school lunch and senior meals programs, Sen. Wyden said that the root issue is with Medicare reforms and how he is pushing back hard against anything that may jeopardize those programs.
“I want to focus on chronic illness,” said Wyden. “There are key elements to strengthening Medicare and taking from those programs aren’t it.”