Merkley visits Dallas on town hall tour

Oregon senator touts local programs paid with federal funds

Polk County Itemizer-Observer

Dallas was one of three barnstorming stops in one day, April 26 providing follow through on Sen. Jeff Merkley’s promise to attend a town hall in each Oregon County every year.

The town hall gives Merkley opportunities to speak directly with constituents about his work for Oregon in Congress. He initially brought up his success securing funding for over 475 community-initiated projects throughout the state over the past three fiscal years. This includes $775,000 toward construction for the relocation and expansion of the Ella Curran Food Bank and another $880,000 for the city of Independence’s Corvallis Road water main replacement project to install a new water main.

Merkley said the number of requests for projects to be funded under the program keeps going up because the word has spread that these are a possibility. As a member of the Appropriation Committee, Merkley said he takes the lead in fighting for these requests back home. He has staff consult and work with cities and counties to determine priorities and how to make them fit within specific areas where Community Initiated Projects are possible. Then in D.C. he fights to get them funded.

“It’s the vision of cities saying it’s our top priority often it’s housing, sometimes it’s childcare, sometimes it’s behavioral health. Often it involves clean water supply or clean water treatment. And we fight to get them,” Merkley said. “Now, there are many more requests that can be possibly funded. I think they’re a valuable part of the process to carve off some of the money and say put this directly toward what the communities say are most needed.”

After an introduction from Polk County Commissioner Jeremy Gordon, Merkley, as is his tradition at his town halls, first turned the spotlight on a local organization doing important work in the community. He presented a flag that actually flew over Congress to Polk Community Development Corporation’s Executive Director Rita Grady. The organization helped create 186 units of affordable housing and its $3.2 million Revolving Loan Fund that has assisted over 800 families with $8.5 million in home repairs.

“Our organization strives to embody the freedoms and the liberty represented in our United States Senate. We believe every person and family should have affordable and secure place to call home, raise their children and become a part of their community,” Grady said. ‘Thank you very much for honoring Polk CDC.”

Also as is his tradition, Merkley took the first question from a student, this time Skylar form Western Oregon University.

“In an effort to remain current, what are issues that you are currently working on that matter to me – the young, poor student, who is also female?” she asked.

Merkely said the U.S., as a developed country, is doing the worst job helping children get a debt free college education. He said the strongest nations are the ones who invest in infrastructure and education.

“Thus, I’m an advocate for debt free college, not free college, because a lot of families can help, but I think we cannot say to our students, hey if you want to aspire to a vision for your life that requires college… you’re going to be burdened with $100,00 in debt,” Merkley said.

He shared when he attended college in 1974, if you worked a minimum wage job and living at home, they would pay your tuition.

“That is not the situation today. That is why I’ve signed on for several initiatives to provide debt free college for every student who aspires to full potential personal vision,” he said.

Molly, who was worried about the “rogue supreme court”, asked what can Merkley do as a senator to keep the judicial in check?

Merkley said he’d like to see a return to a supermajority needed to affirm a justice rather than a simple majority. A proposal he’s backing now says every president gets a certain number of nominations. Then justices rotate off the “Supreme 9” and become backers of circuit courts. And finally, he’d like to see a code of ethics for the Supreme Court.

“Every other part of our government has a code of ethics. The Supreme Court refuses to put a code of ethics in place for themselves except on with no enforcement, which they adopted last year. … The fact they still will not adopt a binding code of ethics is a really a dark mark on the Roberts’ Court.”

Judy from Polk County asked “What do you see as the next real steps for the infrastructure to allow us to really use renewable energy, like solar panels everywhere and support EV type cars?”

Merkley explained the last infrastructure bill had funding for 500,000 chargers to be installed nationwide. However, they ran into the problem of four separate types of chargers that haven’t been whittled down into one common unit yet.

He said he tries to drive around the state to all the town halls in an electric vehicle, so he knows how hard it is to find a universal charger or even one in action. Oregon is slated to receive 5,000 more chargers that should help the situation.

“We need more help for cars to be less expensive up front because people are going to get new savings down the road, but they’re not going to see it immediately. So, we need to get those chargers deployed, but that’s not going to happen until we get a standard decided on.,” Merkley said.

Jeff worried about national defense related to the porous southern border, from human trafficking to the proliferation of fentanyl.

“What is congress doing to help fix that?” Jeff asked.

Merkley said the basic solution is the need to have a rule of law at the border.

He lamented a 2013 supermajority support comprehensive immigration bill that never got a hearing in the House, that would have paid for more technology, personnel and more rapid processing of asylum claims. Again, this year, Merkley pointed to a Senate bipartisan bill that was worked out “with excruciating negotiations,” that basically addressed the same types of things.

“A candidate for the presidency (Trump) said I don’t want this addressed this year. I want it to be left open as an issue until I’m elected. That destroyed the bipartisan support in the Senate, so we didn’t get it passed,” he said.

He added the issue is the immigration system has been broken since he’s been in college.

“It cannot be continuously turned into a campaign where people want a solution until the other side is in charge and then they’re against a solution. I think the 2013 bill was a good foundation for going forward,” Merkley said.

A key solution, he added, is an expedited hearing process, going from six years down to a few months, for those seeking asylum to break through the years of backlog.

“The long-short of it is we’ve got to take the politics out and get something that looks like the compromise crafted this year or looks like 2013 compromise so we can take it out of the effort to hyperpolarize it,” he said.

Merkley finished on a positive note, promoting the magazine “The Oregon Treasures Challenge” which highlights something of interest he and his staff uncovered while making their stops at town halls around the state. To learn more about the publication, go to