Sen. Jeff Merkley gains local support at a town-hall meeting at UCC on March 25

Several hundred citizens gathered in the Umpqua Community College gymnasium on Saturday for a town-hall meeting with Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon to discuss the country’s politics.

Republicans may have failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Thursday and Friday, but Merkley showed his support for the ACA and recommended making further improvements to the current plan.

“We cannot go backwards, we have to reduce the deductibles and make health care even more affordable, more accessible, better quality with more efficiency,” he said. He also recommended other improvements such as creating a single insurance company and reducing the high cost of drugs.

UCC student Ali Lape asked the senator if it were wise for her to transfer to a university to study to become a physician’s assistant while accumulating debt from large student loans.

Merkley told Lape she should continue to further her studies, because she would be able to find work in her field to pay off her loan, unlike other fields. But he pointed out that other countries left their students with smaller debt.

“In Germany, the cost for a year in a public university is basically about one dollar for every $20; in America it’s one dollar for every $2,” he said. “We have to put a lot more resources into our public universities.”

He also recommended the refinancing of student loans with high percentage rates of 6 to 10 percent down to 2 percent.

A representative of the Laborer’s International Union of North America from Myrtle Creek asked Merkley about the failing infrastructure around the state, and asked if there was a plan to get federal funds in Oregon.

“We’re hoping there will be a bipartisan conversation about how to construct this infrastructure package,” he said.

The Democrats, he added, have put forth a $3 trillion plan for infrastructure and look forward to a conversation, but have heard nothing from the president’s team.

Gary Jackson from Myrtle Creek addressed the Jordan Cove Pacific Connector project and how it would bring jobs to Oregon. A member of the Laborer’s International Union of North America, he said the project would employ 3,500 in the construction phase, 200 people operating the plant upon completion with another 700 spin-off jobs with potential for employment in other areas.

Jackson said he would appreciate Merkley’s support for laborers. Merkley instead said he hoped that when the company resubmits its application that it holds up to the two promises made in the first application: to use renewable energy that leaves a small carbon footprint and to not use eminent domain on the pipeline.

“My hope is if they resubmit, that they also include those two principles,” he said. “The company has invested billions of dollars. They can pay people a lot and find a path with voluntary land owners and not deal with it through the court system.”

A Eugene resident who attended the meeting asked Merkley what is being done by Congress to investigate Trump’s financial conflicts of interest. She said Trump has not put his businesses into trusts like other presidents and asked if this was a conflict of interest and if it was an impeachable offense.

 “Yes it is,” he said. “It’s a constitutional crime for a president to take gifts from foreign governments. I am still hoping that the president’s people find a way to rectify this, because at some point there will be questions on every foreign policy issue. It’s a terrible position the president has put himself in.

“I can understand how hard it would be to devest and how painful it is for a businessman to put stuff in a blind trust, but when you choose to run for the presidency, you choose to serve the people of the United States of America.”

In conclusion, Merkley, who was born in Myrtle Creek, said, “I am going to keep fighting for rural America, I am going to keep fighting for working America, and I am going to keep fighting to restore our ‘we the people’ constitution.”

After the meeting, Roseburg resident Patty Feeney said: “It wasn’t as rowdy as I thought it might be. No matter what party we are in, we all love our country and we are all concerned. I just hope eventually we will be able to get past the nonpartisanship and work together.”

Roseburg resident Beth Brown said, “I am so happy our community is getting energized and showing up and asking good questions and getting factual answers. I‘m glad I was here, it was a great opportunity.”

UCC student Lape shared after the meeting as well and said she thought the meeting was well attended and that overall she sensed hope and support.

“It felt like the people do have somebody fighting for them at the Congress level,” Lape said.