Sen. Ron Wyden came to Hood River Sunday, looking and talking like an experienced high school civics teacher.
Education was the dominant theme as Wyden touched on numerous subjects, including expressing support for the compromise Healthy Forest Initiatives legislation and opposition to the federal Energy Bill.
“Education and job training. That’s the ball game, folks,” the Portland Democrat told a group of about 40 citizens in the Circuit Court room of Hood River County Courthouse. Sunday’s forum was his 20th in two weeks, a fulfillment of his campaign promise seven years ago to hold one such event a year in every Oregon county.
“We need to emphasize lifelong education in our our state. This is not your grandfather’s economy,” Wyden said, stating that the typical person will change jobs three or four times in his or her working life.
“The economy, the economy, and the economy,” Wyden said, in answer to one man’s question about the top three issues he hears about at town halls.
“There’s just so much hurt all across the state. Almost every issue is tied to it,” Wyden said, who also said he would vote in favor of Oregon Ballot Measure 30, in support of the $800 million tax increase for 2003-05.
Health care, transportation and infrastructure development, and education are all linked economically, according to Wyden.
He termed as “a priority effort” support for community colleges such as Columbia Gorge Community College, saying higher education programs act as “a bank on which you can draw,” and that job retraining efforts go hand-in-hand with the need to sustain infrastructure, such as roads and communications systems, in the interest of economic revitalization.
“This is a pinnacle of how we get high-skill, high-wage jobs,” he said.
On the national front, Wyden said the Bush Administration’s newly-passed energy bill is “an abomination — as bad a piece of special interest legislation I’ve ever seen,” citing its relaxed controls on production of highly-enriched uranium.
“The most patriotic thing you can do is create a completely new energy bill,” he said. Such a bill should emphasize production of solar, wind, and geothermal energy, Wyden said.
He also criticized the Bush Administration’s tax cut plan.
“The middle class doesn’t seem to be moving up,” he said. “As far as the tax cut is concerned, most Oregonians got a small cut in federal taxes but are seeing big increases in local fees and charges — and they got a significant cut in services.”
Wyden acknowledged that the intent of the tax cut is to provide economic stimulus, but argued that the current legislation goes about it the wrong way.
“With a tax cut that helps the middle class, and a smaller tax cut (for the rich) yet we would have the money to do some of these things. If we change the priorities, we can stimulate job growth.”
Immigration was the third major national issue addressed by Wyden Sunday. He stressed that the extensive immigration law proposed by President Bush last week is just that — a proposal.
“There is no bill. He gave a speech,” Wyden said of the president. “It may be a trial balloon.”
Wyden said he would measure any immigration legislation before Congress in three ways, primarily that all discussions must “rest on the rule of law.”
Also, lawmakers must “make sure it is fair to the people here already,” he said. “We’ve got to be sensitive to the needs of the people who are here legally.”
Third, “I’m in favor of saying that those who have been here illegally but have a positive work record and no criminal record should be given the right to earn citizenship.” Wyden acknowledged that such talk is “controversial.”
“We’re at a big decision point,” he said, regarding treatment of immigrants, legal and otherwise. “For years we’ve tried to have it both ways. We’ve claimed to be opposed to illegal immigration yet we look the other way at the people who make our beds in our hotels, cook our meals in restaurants, and bring in the crops from our fields.”
“We live every day under this contradiction. It is unfair to everyone,” he said.