Douglas County citizens ask US Senator Jeff Merkley questions at town hall

WINCHESTER —U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley started off his town
hall meeting Saturday at Umpqua Community College by giving recognition to
Wayne Elsworth of Umpqua Heart and his work with the homeless community at
Sutherlin’s Hastins Village.

“I like to put a spotlight on an organization that is doing
important work in the county and today we’re going to put that spotlight on
Umpqua Heart,” Merkley said. “We talk a lot about the housing challenge and
homelessness. There are folks who have just made it their mission to help put
people back on their feet, and Wayne is one of those people.”

Merkley’s visit to Douglas County brought a comprehensive
cross-section of constituents to the Bonnie J. Ford Health, Nursing and Science
Center at UCC with questions ranging from international conflicts to the impact
of the federal government in Douglas County.

UCC President Rachel Pokrandt welcomed the senator to the
college for his 12th town hall of the year.

As the town hall began to find its rhythm and questions were
being fielded, the recent spy balloon from China was brought up by a concerned

“It’s just bizarre,” Merkley said, “and, you know, I lead
the congressional-executive commission on China so I’ve been holding human
rights here in the last two years on China and their human rights record is
terrible. When I first heard about this, I thought it was an article from The
Onion, I mean China is sending balloons over our county… Where did they inflate

Despite the jovial nature of the town hall, the concerns
expressed were real and Merkley spoke about China’s actions in the South Sea
and along its border with India as “aggressions” and “intolerable actions.”

Ukraine was another topic that caused an audible murmur
through the crowd when the question was asked regarding the climbing national

“We have a horrific autocracy dictator KGB agent called
Putin who decided to do a ruthless assault on a republic. The Ukrainian
republic had a revolution to maintain stability. Their citizens have freedom of
speech and we need to stand with people who believe in freedom,” Merkley said.
“It’s a terrible, oppressive dictatorship who is committing war crimes every
day bombing houses and schools and hospitals, sending in troops to execute
people in towns and throwing them into mass graves or just leaving them lying
in the ditch or on the street. I believe it is exactly the right thing to do.”

Along with geopolitical questions, Merkley was asked about
wildfires, a subject near and dear to the hearts of Douglas County residents.

“I spent a lot of time going up and down, north and south,
because everywhere from Clackamas County on right down through the southernmost
point we have had people affected by fires,” Merkley said. “Visiting
fairgrounds with hundreds of families pouring in having lost everything and
wondering if their loved ones have been killed. I have a whole team of
caseworkers who help people with government bureaucracy and anytime we can be
of help follow up with us.”

Several Umpqua Community College students were in attendance
and Josiah Green asked the final question of the night.

“What are you doing to combat the rising crime rate in Portland?”
Green asked.

Merkley smiled and asked if there was anyone else with a
question, before saying, “When I was working for Habitat for Humanity, I was
working in the northeast quadrant at a time that had a super high crime rate.
The city undertook a community policing program. The community policing program
involved officers not being in cars, but being on the streets and getting to
know everybody because they had to have a trusting relationship or nobody would
tell them what was going on. The police had no chance of discouraging crime if
people couldn’t be held accountable.”