Sen. Merkley makes county visit

Since opening its doors a few months ago, the Lake County Commissioners boardroom hadn’t seen as much activity as when U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley came for his 256th Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

To open the meeting, Lakeview Mayor Sandra Wenzel had all elected officials introduce themselves, then introduced Sen. Merkley. He opened by stating that this marked his eighth time visiting the county, a tradition he follows with fellow senator, Ron Wyden. Sen. Merkley then invited Judge Rob Nichols, president of Lakeview Community Partnership (LCP), up front to recognize what the organization is doing to better the economy of downtown Lakeview. He then presented a certificate of appreciation to him along with a United States flag that flew at the capitol.

Moving forward, Sen. Merkley gave brief updates about what was happening at the nation’s capital, including the Every Child Succeeds Act, long-term transportation policy and fire funding. He then turned the time over to the crowd gathered for questions, the first coming from a high school student, Ezakiah Haven, who asked if he believed if the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns was an act of domestic terrorism or a radical expression of rights. Sen. Merkley replied that his sentiments reflect the Sheriff of Malheur County, “If you’re here to help the people, then go home.” He then described the acts that led to the takeover, starting with the Hammonds ruling and the mandatory sentencing that resulted from destruction of federal property, adding that these laws should be looked over carefully.

Mayor Wenzel pulled tickets for those present to answer questions. Sen. Merkley was cordial in answering citizens’ concerns about the Workforce Investment Act, Oregon’s new self-pump law, the Transatlantic Transportation Partnership, campaign finance reform, how ISIS should be handled and many other pertinent issues.

Closing the meeting was high school student Anna Fledderjohann, who asked about what could be done to keep college affordable. Sen. Merkley broke down his three strategies, which include low interest loans, the Afford Act that he is pushing, and income adjustment repayment plan. “This would make it so that students wouldn’t be crushed by student debt,” he said.

After the meeting, Sen. Merkley stuck around to field questions from those who were not fortunate enough to get a ticket pulled.