Sen. Ron Wyden Town Hall in Sisters Monday evening.
A solid majority of the crowd was very upset with the unfolding of the Trump Administration.
Crowd wanted expanded Obamacare, not elimination.
Sen. Wyden: Obamacare needs large patient pools to spread costs over larger population.
Many opposed sale of federal lands – feared sell off to extractive corporations. Gone forever.
Many concerned about Education Secretary – no experience in public schools – fears of privatization – uneven resources for kids.
Wyden opposed to wholesale disposal of federal lands. “They belong to all Americans!”
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, stood before a standing-room-only packed theater at Sisters High School Monday night to what was a very friendly crowd, but a crowd very upset with what is going on in Washington DC.
Wyden told hundreds and hundreds of people that he too has been taken aback at the sudden and deep confusion surrounding the White House and it’s effects on the Congress and most Americans – starting with the initial immigration ban on Muslims that created air travel chaos around the world and which was soon ruled by the federal courts as illegal because it was based on religious discrimination only. Not on any valid suspicion of terrorist motivations. Wyden reminded the room that his own family fled the persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II. “We are a nation of immigrants. We’re all descendants from foreign lands. It’s who we are…all of us, Americans!” Wyden told the gathering that President Trump’s handling of immigration issues will likely land in the Supreme Court.
Wyden expressed a frustration felt by many Americans over President Trump’s refusal to release his income tax returns. Wyden said the American people not only deserve, but have a right to know about Trump’s financial affairs so they can figure out if Trump is running the country on behalf of the American people or for his own personal gain. Wyden said there is also the part related to foreign trade and military issues that can have devastating effects on America’s economy and national security. If Trump can be blackmailed over bad behavior or insider trading, he could steer the country in any number of wrong directions to keep something out of public view.
Wyden promised the crowd that he and other democrats will fight to create a congressional investigation into the scandal of former Trump campaign operative Michael Flynn’s behind the scenes conversations with top Russian government officials which were believed on behalf of then presidential candidate Donald Trump. Those secret negotiations reportedly dealt with President Obama’s sanctions against Russia for it’s role in the Syrian War. “This will not be swept under the rug!” Wyden vowed to a roaring and prolonged cheering crowd.
Wyden was asked about efforts to begin selling off federal lands – especially in the west. Wyden hinted there could be some lands disposed of but only possibly a very small portion. Wyden said “America’s federal lands are among some of the most beautiful in the world and they belong to all Americans, not to mention all the wildlife that depend on them for their very lives. Hunters and fishermen in the crowd were loudly against any national land grabs by American extractive corporations and waved signs to that effect.
The crowd loudly supported Wyden’s stand on expanding Obamacare, not eliminating it. He, as many other democrats remind everyone that Republicans, for the past seven years, have had plenty of time to come up with an alternative medical program to replace Obamacare but have produced nothing. Wyden said the GOP’s current strategy is to “repeal and replace,” but what they starting to talk about is dropping mandatory enrollments, initiating medical savings accounts and inflicting lifetime caps on benefits which amounts to a complete hollowing out of the Affordable Care Act. Wyden said expansion of medical care for the disabled, the sick, and the elderly is the only way to go. He said a minor tax on America’s richest families and businesses has proven that Obamacare works. And it’s a very small tax. Wyden said “The country and the Congress just have to work together to improve the lives of the American people – not just leave them hanging.”
Wyden went on to discuss the growing inequality between the rich and the non-rich of the country. Wyden reminded the crowd that a tiny percentage of American families own just about half the county’s economy and more than half of the country’s wealth. He said if America is to remain a competitive player in the world economy, more young Americans must go to college or vocational schools or they’ll be left behind. And he added, college and higher training should not come with a crushing debt burden that can take half-a-lifetime or longer to pay off. He reminded the crowd that more and more American college students and even graduates are moving back in with their parents because of a huge pile of debt that’s stacked up on them.
Wyden touched briefly on what he called Internet Neutrality and why America should keep Internet Neutrality intact. Wyden said all Americans should have equal access to the internet for all of the many educational, financial, social and entertainment benefits it offers. He said efforts by America’s communications giants to put everything “a la carte,” not only on what’s accessible but how fast it’s delivered – would dramatically increase prices from what we’re currently paying. Wyden said it would be disastrous for the country, our economy and for our nation’s quality of life.
Wyden was then asked by a citizen about his thoughts on the country’s new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire appointee now in charge of America’s education system even though Ms. DeVos has never been employed by, or in charge of, any educational institution in the country. Wyden said it was plain to him and to his congressional colleagues that DeVos is ill-prepared for the job. Wyden was also concerned about funding for America’s schools because if DeVos is allowed to start channeling more federal dollars to public charter schools, which she has said she wants to do, it would leave America’s already underfunded schools even higher and drier on all fronts. Test scores reveal that charter schools don’t appreciably educate better than public schools since educational performance has a family factor to it – the lower the income, the lower the performance levels. Charter schools have been roundly criticized for siphoning off higher performing students which come predominantly from higher income families. They say it leaves behind lower income family students to flail and struggle in schools that are left with substantially reduced budgets, now playing second fiddle to charter schools.
Getting back to public lands here in Oregon, income from federal lands provides a large part of Oregon public school revenue. But with the slow down in the harvesting of timber, especially, those funds have begun to dry up leaving a worsening funding gap for Oregon’s education system. Senator Wyden says other states are finding themselves in the same situation. He said he and a few of his colleagues, including a few republicans, are pushing a plan to have the federal government pay what’s called “in lieu” funds instead of taxes on harvested timber. Wyden told the crowd that this funding change strategy is in its early phases.
Wyden will conduct two more Central Oregon Town Hall meetings this week: Tuesday, 12:30pm at Crook County High School Auditorium in Prineville. Then Wednesday in Madras at 10am at the Madras Performing Arts Center.