Healthcare concerns dominate Merkley town hall

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) visited Southwestern Oregon on Wednesday, May 27 as part of an effort to make yearly visits to every county in the state.

Merkley spent that morning at Hope Mountain in Illinois Valley learning about biomass and forest-thinning projects recently begun in the area. He then met briefly with the Josephine County Board of Commissioners in their conference room at the courthouse in Grants Pass. Sheriff Gil Gilbertson was present, with Grants Pass Mayor Mike Murphy and Assistant City Manager Laurel Samson.

The Tuesday, May 19 passage of the Grants Pass public safety levy was discussed. Merkley asked Samson and Murphy if removal of the state’s previous double majority requirement aided in the levy’s passage. Murphy confirmed that it did, and stated that there was a 41 percent election turnout in the city of Grants Pass.

Gilbertson discussed law enforcement issues with Merkley. The sheriff stated that methamphetamine use may be making a comeback, and that marijuana grows on public lands remain a huge problem.

He said that he sees an increase in the consolidation of law enforcement agencies as being likely in the future.

The sheriff’s office is considering expanding its jail to a regional facility, Gilbertson said, adding that his agency uses less than half its available space. Long-term funding for law enforcement remains an issue, as the county collects around $3 million per year in property taxes, and operating the jail costs at least $4.2 million per year, Gilbertson said.

Merkley then headed to Anne G. Basker Auditorium next to the courthouse, where some 60 residents turned out for his town hall meeting. Many wore stickers stating, “Health Care for America now!”

After being introduced by Commissioner Dave Toler, Merkley solicited questions from audience members. The first question dealt with whether or not there is enough support for health-care reform legislation.

Merkley responded that he often discusses health-care issues with his wife, who is a nurse.

President Harry Truman tried unsuccessfully to create national health care, as did President Bill Clinton, Merkley said. But there is an “historic opportunity on health care” right now, he said, because a coalition of small and large business owners and citizens “shell-shocked” about skyrocketing costs are pushing for reform.