Merkley takes the long way home – through Jordan Valley

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) listens to a question from a member of the crowd (right) at the Jordan Valley Lions Club Community Center Sunday afternoon. Merkley traveled to the remote spot in Oregon as part of his goal to visit every county in Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Sara Hottman)

JORDAN VALLEY – The Lions Club Community Center here was a long way from Washington, D.C., but that was just fine for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

More than 60 people showed up Sunday for a town hall meeting with the senator where subjects as varied as land use, sage grouse and guns were discussed.

“I had to change the time on my watch a couple of times,” Merkley joked.

The landscape of Jordan Valley doesn’t resemble the terrain of the nation’s capital but Merkley said he enjoyed his trip to one of the remotest areas in Oregon.

Merkley said it is his job as a senator to visit each town in Oregon.

“It starts with: If you represent the whole state you have to go to every county. This isn’t a burden. It’s a joy,” said Merkley.

While questions and commentary at the town hall stretched over a range of subjects, Merkley said one item proved to be critical for attendees.

“I think there was more conversation about land use than anything else,” said Merkley.

The Myrtle Creek native was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 and again in 2014.

Merkley said land use issues are not exclusive to Jordan Valley.

“This comes up all across rural Oregon,” said Merkley.

The area around Jordan Valley was recently the epicenter of a battle over the Owyhee Canyonlands. An alliance of environmental groups, citizens and businesses aimed to designate 2.5 million acres as a national monument. The Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition fought the proposal and it died when President Donald Trump took office.

The coalition is now working on legislation to establish a broader public lands management plan for the county.

“I am looking forward to learning about it,” said Merkley.

Merkley said he was pleased the town hall attracted such a good crowd.

“Quite a few people came. It’s a pretty good showing and I got to talk to a lot of different people,” said Merkley.

Merkley said the town hall was instructive for another reason.

“All across the nation, we are polarized. But people at the town hall were respectful, even in this charged political environment. It sure was a pleasure,” said Merkley.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541 473 3377.