New senator immersed in big issues

Salem, Ore. — When Jeff Merkley moved his family from Oregon to Washington, D.C., as a new U.S. senator, he transported his belongings himself — driving a big U-Haul across the country with his son in the passenger seat.

“It was fun, because you sit up so high,” Merkley said, laughing as he recalled the experience.

During his years in the Oregon Legislature, Merkley was never known as a splashy politico — more a wonky type who works behind the scenes. That’s also been his style during his first six months in the Senate.

Serving on three key committees, the Stanford- and Princeton-­educated Merkley has become deeply immersed in crucial and heady issues. Those include health care reform, global warming and finding solutions to the nation’s financial crisis.

Senate votes are yet to come on the big bills on those issues.

“But in his first six months, Merkley has created a strong reputation for himself,” said Darrell West of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “He’s a brainy guy who cares about public policy. He dives into issues.”