Town hall at MHS
Sen. Ron Wyden was impressed by questions from Madras High School students at a town hall meeting held at MHS May 31.
"You students have been so well-prepared with questions, you really did your homework," Wyden said, comparing their questions to a grilling by the TV program Meet the Press.
Congratulating the 509-J District on passing the recent school bond levy, Wyden said, "Hardly any school districts are getting any bonds passed; that's really good news to hear."
In the area of education, he said he went to bat for Oregon when federal funds to counties to replace timberland sales were about to dry up in 2007.
"I wrote a law (the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-determination Act) to fix that, which has brought $2.5 billion to the state of Oregon," he said.
He is currently working on trying to fix problems with the No Child Left Behind Act.
When a student asked his opinion about undocumented Hispanics not being able to get driver's licenses in Oregon, Wyden said it's a state decision, but stems from a nationwide problem.
"It's because the country is ducking out on the immigration issue. During 2008, McCain and Obama had three televised debates of 90 minutes each, and never once did this question come up," Wyden noted.
"I want to make sure that this time, we have a discussion on how to turn things around," he said, listing his suggestions.
Wyden said rules should be tightened up at the borders so the country's sovereignty is protected, the laws on the books should be enforced, employers who knowingly hire illegals should be fined, and Democrats and Republicans should decide what to do about the illegals already living in the country.
"Sending them back is unrealistic; how would you make that work?" he asked.
"I favor setting aside a period of time for undocumented Hispanics to come forward voluntarily. If they pay a fine (because they broke the law), demonstrate they have not broken any other laws, and master English, then they can apply to be a citizen of the U.S.," he said.
Tribal radio reporter Will Robins asked about the Violence Against Women Act which was passed by the Senate and is being sent to the House of Representatives.
Wyden said he voted for it, and hopes the House will accept it, but warned, "It seems like all of Washington has been taken over by fireball craziness. There's a tremendous amount of bickering between Democrats and Republicans."
"I'm not interested in bickering, I'm interested in solving problems," he said, noting that more than anything else, he wants to see the bickering end.
Medicare is another example, he said, noting 10,000 Americans will be turning 65 every day for the next 20 years.
"We can either fight and run attack commercials on TV, or we can find a solution," he said of Medicare funding.
To a student question on legalizing marijuana, Wyden said he voted to support the use of medical marijuana. But, historically, marijuana issues are left up to the states, "and I respect that judgment," he said.
A student asked his views on Obama's proposal to increase restrictions for teens working on farms.
Wyden responded that he was against the proposal, which has since been scaled back. "We need to bring common sense to this. Are there some things kids shouldn't be doing? Yes. Are there a lot of things kids can do that don't put them at risk? Absolutely," he said.
Citizen Gary Harris asked if he felt the U.S. should be exporting natural gas overseas, and his views on green energy.
"Today, natural gas is a huge boon for our country. We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas -- it's a strategic American advantage," Wyden said of new technology (fracking) unleashing huge stores of natural gas.
But, Wyden said he is worried about the U.S. "trading away this strategic American advantage" by exporting its natural gas.
He said plentiful natural gas supplies are "a huge win, and it's ours after years of being dependent on others for oil."
One day soon, Wyden said he'd like to see people pull up to a "filling station" which offers natural gas, biofuel, and electricity for vehicles, which would also foster competition and choice.
Teacher Alan Hair asked about the seriousness of debates in the Senate, vs. commenting on TV or the Internet.
Wyden used the question of filibusters as an example. He said it takes 60 votes to override a filibuster, and he has filibustered twice.
The extended time on the floor of the Senate gave him the chance to educate and convince other senators about the issue and his position.
His first filibuster successfully quashed an effort to get rid of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act. His second filibuster was over Internet piracy vs. freedom of access.
Most in the Senate were in favor of the bill. "To fight piracy on the Internet, they wanted to turn websites into Web cops, who would be liable," he said.
"I said that was a bad idea. The Internet is so important, especially rurally -- it's a big equalizer," Wyden said, noting he was against piracy, but not limiting Internet access.
Wyden filibustered, and on Jan. 18, 15 million Americans emailed the Senate saying not to let the bill pass. By Jan. 20, the Senate bill had been pulled.
"People told me, `You made us believe in government again; our vote counted,'" he said.