Merkley urges an investment in families, infrastructure

VALE – Oregon’s junior U.S. senator believes America must reinvest in families, improve its health care system, upgrade its infrastructure and boost technical education.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley laid out his aspirations last week in an exclusive interview with the Enterprise shortly before a town hall meeting in Ontario.

Merkley, a former speaker of the Oregon House, also chatted about immigration issues during the session at the newspaper office in Vale April 24.

Merkley said American democracy faces a crisis because of corruption.

“Gerrymandering, voter suppression and dark money – this has really converted the federal government,” said Merkley.

Merkley said if that course does not change “we will lose so many battles so important to American families.”

Merkley said the nation must “invest in the fundamentals of families.”

“You ask a family what they are worried about and they talk about one of four things: Health care, housing, education or a good paying job. We are not doing the work we need to do in those four areas,” said Merkley.

Merkley said the nation’s health care structure is too complicated and stressful and the country has “the most expensive college system.”

Education was a key point for the Portland lawmaker.

“We have a big shortage in our career technical education which is really an important pathway to many jobs. I am talking everything from shop class to cooking,” said Merkley.

Merkley also asserted the nation is falling behind in updating its infrastructure.

Merkley pointed to China, where he said investments in infrastructure are obvious and stand in stark contrast to the U.S.

“I’ve watched China go from bicycles to bullet trains while we are barely maintaining what we have,” said Merkley.

Merkley used China’s investment in bullet trains to illustrate the widening infrastructure gap.

“I was on the first bullet train built from Beijing to the coast. We’ve worked on one bullet train project in California that has never been finished. They are doing a modern transit system while we are not investing in infrastructure,” said Merkley.

Merkley also touched on climate change.

“My basic point is we are in trouble,” he said.

Merkley pointed out climate change impacts the entire state, from the Klamath basin to the coast to the Cascades.

“We must do everything we can to transition to renewable energy,” said Merkley.

During the past year, Merkley has also become an advocate for migrant children held in encampments for immigration violations along the Mexican border. He visited such camps near El Paso, Texas, and in Florida and said the Trump administration policy to take children from their families is wrong.

“The basic premise of the Trump strategy was, if you treat immigration families in a way that inflicts trauma, you will discourage them from coming. But what that means is you’ll hurt kids as part of a political strategy,” said Merkley.

The nature of immigration, he said, also changed during the past decade.

“We saw a big switch from Mexican men coming to America to families coming from central America and children coming from central America,” he said.

Merkley said the families are fleeing because “that region has become gripped by the impact of drug gangs.”

“The money (for the drug gangs) comes from the U.S., the guns come from the U.S. and in the 90s we deported a lot of gang members that intensified their grip in central America,” said Merkley.

Merkley said the Trump administration did close down one camp on the border but more work is needed to end the policy.

“So, we are hurting kids and we have got to end it,” said Merkley.