By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO — He may be well aware the number of votes he will collect in Malheur County will be low but U.S. Senator Ron Wyden doesn’t care.
He loves visiting places like Malheur County.
That’s because, Wyden said, he doesn’t just represent one portion of the state but all voters in Oregon.
Wyden was one hand April 19 at Ontario High School for a nearly two-hour town hall meeting that involved local residents and students from the high school. Questions during the session ran the gamut from concerns about North Korea to immigration issues.
While Wyden answered questions from county residents, he was particularly focused on queries from students. Town hall sessions, he told the crowd, “are the way the Founding Fathers wanted us to do it.”
Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, discussed the pending federal disaster declaration for the damage from a series of severe winter storms. Now, he said, the declaration is awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump and Federal Emergency Management Agency approval.
He also said he is wants to find a long-term resolution to the Owyhee Canyonlands controversy.
“My commitment to finding a solution to the Owyhee Canyonlands is as deep as the canyon,” he told the crowd.
Wyden then answered questions from the audience. Kay Riley of Snake River Produce asked Wyden about his thoughts on immigration reform, specifically a “viable guest worker program.”
Wyden called the nation’s immigration system “a broken, dysfunctional mess” and said the issue strikes at the heart of the American ethos.
“We are a nation of immigrants,” he said.
After a question regarding the Affordable Care Act, Wyden said he doesn’t support dismantling it.
“Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would hit rural Oregon like a wrecking ball,” he said.
Wyden reminded the students that health care – especially Medicare – is important to them.
“That’s because people turn 65 every day. Medicare will gobble up everything in sight if we don’t get a new strategy to hold down costs. We have to upgrade Medicare for the times,” he said.
Medicare is a national insurance program managed by the federal government that works through 30 to 50 private insurance firms under contract.
Wyden said he initially supported the recent American missile strike in Syria.
“That, however, is not a foreign policy, just having one strike,” he said.
Wyden said he is concerned the Trump Administration doesn’t have an overseas strategy.
“So much of it seems reactive to the daily news cycle,” he said.
After a question regarding veteran’s health care, Wyden said the nation has a solemn pact with those who served.
He said his experience in Oregon is that, for the most part, veterans secure good health care – if they can access it.
He said a backlog on veteran patient cases and a lack of health care providers are two important challenges that must be overcome.
Clint Shock, director of the Malheur Experiment Station, asked Wyden what the nation should be focused on right now. Wyden said infrastructure improvements are a crucial goal and can be solved through cooperation between lawmakers.
“There are no Democratic roads or Republican bridges,” said Wyden.