MEDFORD, Ore. -- U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley sat down with Newswatch 12 Saturday morning to talk about wildfires, the 2020 presidential election, the shootings in San Diego and his town halls in Jackson and Josephine County.
Newswatch 12 reporter Leah Thompson says, "I'm sitting here with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley. He had a couple of town halls today. Tell me about some of the key points you were looking to talk about."
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley says, "Absolutely, I had one in Phoenix for Jackson County and one in Grants Pass with Josephine County. I really wanted to lay out some of the big issues we are facing across the country. Including the corruption of our Constitution process by gerrymandering, dark money and voter suppression and the real failure to invest in the foundation for families. Health care, housing, education and living wage jobs. No government program substitutes a good paying job and finally the issue of carbon pollution and climate chaos and of course the fires we are having here that are doing so much damage."
Thompson says, "Right even this week we already had a wildfire in Lake County. The Flynn fire and it was 100% contained today. Is that worrisome to congress about fires already starting in April."
Senator Merkley says, "Absolutely. We are seeing fire season that is a couple months longer then it was just decades ago. The forests are drier. There are more lightening strikes. The combination is a huge problem not just for forests but for the smoke damage to our urban areas and the threat to our towns and cities from fires that could sweep in as they did in California last year."
Thompson says, "right should people be starting that now or what is your message going to be to be tonight about that then."
Senator Merkley says, "Continuously all the time we have to be working on thinning these forests and producing jobs and making them more fire resistant. It's a continuous effort. I am hoping that in this coming year some of the funds that will be come available cause we are going to go to a new system that provides essentially a FEMA style response to very large fires. Opens up some several million dollars in the budget I hope we can get those funds to proceed to come to the front end for fire prevention."
Thompson says, "so I want to go more nationally now. We are seeing more and more candidates running for 2020 presidential election. Are you endorsing any candidates yet?"
Senator Merkley says, "No I am not. No and I don't anticipate doing so for a very long time. I am encouraging all of them to address the three big issues democracy crisis, the crisis for investment in the foundations for families and the climate crisis."
Thompson says, "Now the one question a lot of people have with the number of Democrats running is that going to effect a Democrat winning a presidential election because it's going to be so split up."
Senator Merkley says, "Well I don't think so. Of course the last time around we had many many republicans running they settled on their candidate and their candidate won. I hope the same thing is going to happen this time around. Only perhaps on the other side of the aisle."
Thompson says, "So something else I also wanted to bring up which I'm sure you are aware of is the synagogue shootings in San Diego. Obviously this is something that has been happening all over the world and the countries. Here in Oregon have you talked to other Senators and Representatives about this at all."
Senator Merkley says, "I did put up a message yesterday following this shooting. Very Very disturbing. Time and time again we are seeing that a lot of obligatory, a lot of hatred is pouring into violence and I think we have to have a real conversation in our country about respecting our religious differences. Our ethnic differences our racial differences because that's what America is about. That's what we say in the Pledge of Allegiance. One nation under god, indivisible and why do we say that. Well we say it because it's about all of us coming together from many different parts of the world to create this America and working together to make it stronger, more successful, more beautiful and we need to stand with any group that is attacked. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and say no."
Thompson says, "I just want to circle back around to the town halls. I know you try to go to every county every year. How are you seeing that turnout at your town halls. Has it been very helpful for you as a Senator."
Senator Merkley says, "We've had significant citizen engagement and turn out so that is tremendous. There is not many Senators in the country that do this but at the end of this year I'll have close to 400 town halls. Senator Wyden set the example. He's gone probably closer to a 1,000 town halls. But it's am average of every 10 days since I took office and the continuous feed back on the issues people are facing is terrific. It's also very helpful to bring people together who have real differences and have a peaceful and respectful dialogue about those differences. We need more of that in America."
Thompson says, "Well thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. I know you are very busy today with the two town halls you have going on."