Merkley town hall covers host of topics

Gun control, Social Security’s future, cost of living increases, Jordan Cove pipeline and an upcoming difficult water year were all topics that came before U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley at a town hall Tuesday on the Oregon Tech campus.

About 120 people attended the town hall as part of a whirlwind tour for Merkley, a two-term Democrat who has been in office since 2009. He also met separately with Basin irrigators, the Klamath Tribes, city and county officials, educators and the media before heading the Lake County for a town hall there.

Merkley also announced a proposed bill to help curb college debt for students. Federal dollars would match state money to lower interest payments and make loans available to students who cannot afford school.

Impending drought

Predictions are that this summer may be the worst drought since 2001, when water was shutoff to Klamath Project irrigators to protect endangered fish species. Without a working agreement in place between the Klamath Tribes, which holds the first right water claim, and the irrigators, many fear their businesses may take a huge financial hit.

The recently passed federal spending bill includes a $10-million to $12-million account that may be used to aid irrigators who idle their land or help them financially, Merkley said.

“You’ve got multi-generational farmers who are hurting and there’s frustration from the tribal side, which has not seen a serious improvement to the health of the fish in the lake,” Merkley said. “I’m encouraging both sides to keep in dialogue with each other — not to necessarily reach an agreement, but to better understand each other.”

Merkley noted he’s worked on this issue with others from the congressional delegation for the last 10 years.

“We got through 2010 and 2013 drought years in part because we sat down and talked. And I’m encouraging everyone to keep a dialogue open,” he said.

Gun control

It was pointed out at the town hall that the Senator from Roseburg had a cousin, Rebecka Ann Carnes, who was killed alongside eight others in the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting. Others asked what Congress is doing about the gun issue.

“Yes, Rebecka’s cap from high school had read, ‘The adventure begins,’ but sadly it did not last long for her,” he said.

Merkley said he’s co-sponsored several gun control measures in Congress. He said there are several options: To expand background checks; include background checks at gun show sales; and limit the size of magazines that assault-style weapons can handle.

“I think it’s worth having that conversation of banning the large magazines. I’m supportive of banning assault rifles. I think we have to protect the rights of folks under the Second Amendment, but I think the assault rifles and large magazines go too far.”

LNG pipeline

Merkley reiterated his stance opposing the Jordan Cove Pipeline, especially because of the company’s ability to use “eminent domain against private citizens to cross their land.” He also believes that more fossil fuel usage is not the way to lessen the carbon footprint of the country. The proposed pipeline carrying liquefied natural gas is to run from Malin to Coos Bay for processing and shipment to Japan and China. It is awaiting federal approval.

Commercial air transportation

Merkley worked to get PenAir to fly into the Klamath Falls airport and admits frustration at the company filing for bankruptcy and pulling out.

“Any large company that locates here will need air service. It’s a huge impediment to growing business,” he said.

DACA delay

He is in support of a DACA or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, for children of immigrants who are born in this country. There’s a congressional bill that has bi-partisan support in Congress, “but it’s in the president’s hands, and he chose to reject it,” he said. “That leaves a large portion of our working economy in limbo.”

Recognition for Ponderosa

At the start of the town hall, Merkley presented Karin Hughes of Citizens for Safe Schools and the volunteers for the School Guardian Project at Ponderosa Middle School with a U.S. flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol. The project helps students deal with bullying.