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Sen. Ron Wyden talks to a own hall of 75 at Fort Dalles Readiness Center.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden held a town hall meeting Saturday, Feb. 15 at the Fort Dalles Readiness Center. With attendance around 75 people, questioners were chosen through a raffle system, and they asked questions or voiced concerns they had.

“This is part of the pledge I made to Oregonians,” Wyden said. “I’ll be in a different county in every year and I’m not reading any teleprompters, I’m not giving any speeches. No subjects are off limits. This will be the 967th time we’ve done this. For the next 90 minutes, we’re going to do what the Founding Fathers wanted us to do. You tell me what’s on your mind, your question or whatever you want, and I’ll do my best to respond.”

Audience members asked questions regarding education, environment, senior living and other subjects.

An audience member asked Wyden if he could speak on the importance of state and national parks.

“Well, you talked about all the areas that worry me and my sense is that one of the best ways for us to push back is keep pointing out that recreation and the great outdoors are now a huge economic engine for our country,” Wyden said. “So, protecting these special places happens to be really good for the economy. They create jobs all the way across the state. We got rafters, anglers and hunters every weekend. Just go and look and see who’s out there enjoying these special places. In effort to try and show how important rivers are, I started something called River Democracy.”

Since he joined Congress in 1981, Wyden has helped designate 1,984 miles of river and over 600,000 riverfront-acres as scenic areas through River Democracy.

Another audience member brought up the issue of families no longer being eligible to enroll their kids in Early Head Start due to the minimum wage increase.

“I want us to be all over this Early Head Start issue because it is a serious problem for families in rural areas,” Wyden said. “We’ve set up these zones, as we’ve done in our state, where pay would be higher in relation to population area. I don’t think anybody thought through what the connection would be to Oregon, say, going to the 2020 federal minimum wage. If Oregon goes up a few dollars and rural families lose Early Head Start, that’s a really dumb idea.”

One concerned citizen spoke about the cost of living for seniors. Wyden, long an advocate for the aging, said he’d fight for seniors’ way of life until he breathes his last breath.

“Growing older in America is really a costly deal,” Wyden said. “You can have been a couple that never went and did the extra. Never went and bought a boat that they were thinking about or went on that great vacation. They scrapped and they saved because they knew they wanted to have a dignified retirement. Then one spouse died. So, you have the widower up on the corner and maybe the kid down the street mows the lawn for 25 cents or something like that. But she doesn’t have any money to pay for long term care. Medicare is there for her.

“I just want you to know that I’ve told the Trump people that if you try to unravel the guarantee of nursing home protection, you’re going to have to run over me with a bus,” Wyden said. “You better make sure you get rid of my body because if I have little life in me I will fight them ‘til I don’t have an ounce of breath in my body. It’s not right to say to our older people who fought our wars, done so much for our community then they grow older, run out of money and we’re going to say that’s that and they’ll be on the streets.”

Wyden’s next town hall will be Friday, Feb. 21 at 10 a.m. at the Madras Performing Arts Center.

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