Things may be tough on politicians in a few decades if any of the Hood River Middle School students at Sen. Ron Wyden’s town hall Thursday grow up to be members of the Washington, D.C., press corps.
Middle school students peppered Oregon’s senior senator with questions ranging from his views on repealing the Second Amendment to ways to stabilize Hood River County school funding.
After the town hall segment, the Democratic chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sat down with Sarah Segal’s Constitution class and got even more difficult questions.
Walden said he was impressed with the middle school students, particularly because he had “zero” interest in politics as a youth.
“When I was your age … I always had a basketball attached to my hip and that was all I did morning, noon and night,” Wyden said.
Wyden did attend college on a basketball scholarship, but said he only became a serious student when he realized his dreams of playing professional basketball were going nowhere.
“Learn about a lot of different fields,” he encouraged the students. “A lot of you are going to live to be close to 100; you are going to see a lot of astounding things in your life. The more you can learn about technology, about foreign languages, about foreign cultural; get a good grounding in about math and science and learn about history and the rest of the world.
“That is what is going to prepare you for what I hope you’ll have — is to have a lot of opportunities in a lot of different areas. I didn’t learn that until later in life and I had to play catch-up ball … when I was 12 or 13 I wouldn’t have been in a constitution class and prepared like you guys have been.”
During the town hall, Wyden offered his thoughts on the recent “fiscal cliff” negotiations, why there is so much partisan gridlock in Washington, ways to get the nation out of debt, energy policy and the Second Amendment.
Prior to the town hall he presented a copy of a senate declaration, declaring 2013 as the year of the Korean War veteran to Hood River veteran Sumio Fukui.
On the recent fiscal cliff deal, he said it was “necessary.”
“If it was not passed, millions of hardworking Americans, including thousands in our state, would have seen their income taxes go up on Jan. 1,” he said. “That would have really been bad news for them and bad news for the economy.”
Wyden got a hot-button issue question from one of the middle school students, who asked if he would favor a repeal of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“I would not vote to repeal the Second Amendment,” he said. “Your United States senator would not vote for that. What I think we need to do with the whole issue of guns is to make sure there are rights and responsibilities; that is America at its best …
“I think we ought to have better background checks so that when you have someone with a serious mental illness I don’t think they should be able to get one of these military-style rifles with high-capacity magazines.”
He also said that gun owners needed to make sure that guns in their home were properly stored and that there should be additional oversight rules on the transfer of guns.
Wyden also faced several questions shipping coal through the Gorge, just as Rep. Greg Walden did when he visited Hood River the previous week.
“For years we have been talking about importing energy and now we are talking about exporting it, and I think we need to look before we leap,” he said. “This has grave implications for the economy, for the environment, for jobs, or national security.”
He said he had seen trade fights over the exporting of agricultural goods such as cherries and blueberries and pears, but that any fight over the exporting of coal would be different because “cherries and blueberries are not national security issues … energy is.”
As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural resources, Wyden said he would pursue a strategy of finding more ways to use renewable and greener power.
“Any time you innovate in the energy field you should always try to be greener and do more for energy efficiency than the system you have now,” he said. “Whether its buildings, hydro systems or road construction, our committee will do everything it can to use less fossil fuel and less oil and more greener materials in every way we can in the work that is funded by the federal government.”