Monday, April 24, 2023

By:  Kiva Hanson

Madras Pioneer

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) held a town hall at the Madras Performing Arts Center Sunday, April 23 as part of his pledge to host at least one town hall a year in each Oregon county.

Around 40 community members attended the event and posed a variety of questions. The town hall began with a recognition and honoring of the 509J food box program that ensures students have proper nutrition over winter break. Program representative and Madras High School counselor Stacey Bruce received a flag flown at the capitol from the senator.

Many of the questions posed focused on environmental issues. MHS student Tray Cherry asked about the recent approval of the Willow Project, a 500-acre oil-drilling project in Alaska, and Heike Williams asked about federal support for environmental issues and programming.

Merkley shared that he thought that expansion and continuation of the use of fossil fuels was disastrous, and he had strongly opposed the project’s approval. Merkley added, “Climate change is real, and it will have catastrophic effects if we don’t tackle it. We cannot expect other countries to reduce their carbon emissions if we cannot rest on ourselves as an example.”

Another major issue discussed was water and rights to it. Multiple local farmers asked how the senator felt about using water resources for things like the habitat conservation plan and other environmental issues. Merkley shared his experience working on water issues in the Klamath Basin, stating, “What I have seen work is when everyone involved gets in the room and works out a plan together. Regardless of how you all feel about each other, at some point the only people winning in the fight becomes the lawyers.”

Taxes and regulations around legislators’ investments were also a topic, with Merkley stating in response that he has been and will continue to fight tax loopholes for corporations, and fight against the ability for legislators to invest in individual stocks.

Other topics included supporting youth interested in politics, supreme court regulations and oversight and transgender youth sports. On the topic of transgender youth in sports, Merkley stated, “I won’t comment on college or professional sports, but at the K-12 level, I think that supporting children who are on a very difficult path can never hurt. Transgender youth are much more likely to be bullied, to be depressed, and being a part of a supportive team can really impact a student’s mental state. I think we should really be giving kids on a hard path some more grace.”