JORDAN VALLEY — U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, stopped in two of Oregon’s smaller communities for his town halls in Malheur and Harney counties on Sunday, before heading back to Washington D.C.
Merkley who is known for changing the locations of his town halls, was in Jordan Valley and Huntington to hear from constituents.
Merkley visits each of Oregon’s 36 counties once a year, he said after arriving in Huntington.
And his town halls usually draw people from around the area. A number of people at Jordan Valley indicated they had driven 20 miles or more to attend the session, some from Ontario and Vale. Several people attending the Huntington meeting had traveled down from Baker City.
Merkley addressed gun issues at both town halls, saying balancing the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and keeping guns away from people who are mentally ill is a challenge.
He noted that Oregon has stiffened its background checks on the sale of guns to include gun shows and some private sales.
Merkley did not poll his audience at Jordan Valley, but at Huntington he found support for taking Oregon’s background checks laws nationwide. The senator also said he was in support of banning sales of assault rifles, but not possession of them.
His Huntington audience was less supportive on limiting the size of magazines for guns.
At both Jordan Valley and Huntington there were questions about national monuments, for and against.
“There is pushback,” Merkley said, to the reduction of monument proposals being pushed by the Trump administration. There also is a court challenge he said.
While there have been some adjustments to monuments in the past there has never been one eliminated or had a major reduction in in the U.S., according to the senator.
“That would be unprecedented,” Merkley said.
Management of monuments varies from site to site, Merkley said, and things such as hunting, fishing and other recreation are usually allowed.
In a question that has been raised by people in Malheur and Harney counties, Amber Martell of Baker City, speaking at Huntington, said she would like to see Amtrak passenger train service returned through eastern Oregon, but Merkley held out little hope.
“It’s very hard to keep the current system running,” he said, even in the heavily populated areas.
Most of the Amtrak’s service is along either coast, and it is hard to get support to fund service in the interior areas of the country, he explained.
During the Jordan Valley meeting, Elias Eiguren, from the Arock area, said he was concerned about the difficulty of bringing temporary agricultural workers into the country because because of abuses in the past.
Merkley said a Senate bill passed in 2013, but not by the House, could be the basis for any immigration reform.
It called for stronger border enforcement, stronger enforcement against people who overstay their visas, but would allow allow worker visas and help the “dreamers” who were brought into the U.S. as children but are undocumented, Merkley said.
On another subject, with work on the 2109 Farm Bill coming, the senator said he is collecting information from producers and others in the ag industry to learn about what is working in the current Farm Bill and what is not.