NEWPORT — U.S. Senator Ron Wyden held his 969th Oregon Town Hall on Monday, Feb. 17, at the Newport Recreation Center.
“In Oregon,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Doug Hunt as he introduced Wyden, “we know him as a senator who always listens,” which Wyden proceeded to do, as more than a dozen constituents, chosen by random, questioned and informed the senator for 90 minutes.
Wyden, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a member of U.S. Senate Committees on the Budget and Intelligence, explained that the town hall is about the pledge he made when elected to “have an open-to-everyone town hall meeting in every county every year.”
“This is your time to educate me,” Wyden told those gathered in the crowded room. “I’m looking out at the faces of democracy,” he said to applause.
“My concern is the integrity of our electoral system,” the first constituent told Wyden. “As you know, better than we, all three branches of our government are compromised, and there is a clear-cut effort to suppress the vote.”
The woman noted the senator’s efforts to pass election security legislation blocked by the Republican-led Senate before saying, “I’m afraid for the next election. What do we do to make sure that we still have the right to fair elections?”
Wyden illustrated her point. “Last Wednesday, I went to the floor. I was there on behalf of all the Senate Democrats … and I asked the Senate to go to a bill that would … finally prohibit voting machines from having an open connection to the internet. Which, so you understand, if you have that, that is like putting our ballots in the Kremlin.
“Marcia Blackburn, the new senator from Tennessee,” explained Wyden, “just got up and said, ‘I object.’
“I was trying to get the discussion going on this, continued Wyden. “But shouldn’t we have debate? She just sat there … continued her objection. Let’s just make sure everybody knows what’s going on. We’re faced right now in the Senate with a majority of the Senate saying ‘no big deal.’”
Wyden offered a grave warning. “As of today, as we go into 2020, I believe that we are going to have foreign interference in our 2020 election. It will not just be the Russians. It will make 2016 look like small potatoes."
The senator was asked, “What can we do to help you get things done?”
“All over the county, what I’m telling people to do is go in to see your elections department. Tell them you want to know about the voter registration files, and you want to know, for example, about e-poll books, which are very popular in a lot of places, and you want to know about election-night tabulation, which has been a problem. We’re just trying to create as much awareness as we can.”
Wyden acknowledged, “Oregon is the gold standard right now, hand-marked paper ballots, but we’re not home free.” He cautioned about mobile voting technology, saying his office tried to warn the Democratic National Committee about the risk of the tabulation app used in Iowa primary election.
“I’m about the biggest tech person around, but if you’re talking about using something untested, where we can’t get audits, and you’re going to use it on service members … you’re not going to convince me that’s the way to go,” he said of Voatz being considered by the Oregon Secretary of State.
Wyden related that he told the president that every Democrat and every Republican has said that as part of a bipartisan tax bill, they want to see improvements to infrastructure. “He spent the money,” Wyden said of President Trump, “on tax breaks.” Wyden added that sooner rather than later, he’d like to see a rollback on some of the tax breaks for people at the top, and use that money for infrastructure.
A man identifying himself as a World War II veteran wanted to know the senator’s stance on the Second Amendment. Wyden assured him that any regulations he supports would be reasonable and would not infringe on the man’s Second Amendment rights.
Wyden promised to look into the concerns a constituent had related to drinking water from the Siletz River. His aide took her information to follow up. Wyden also offered personal assistance to a woman there on behalf of her veteran husband who was having difficulty getting care through the Veterans Administration.
Of the proposed budget, Wyden said, “This budget is so bad that the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee will not even hold a hearing on the Republican budget, let alone let it go forward.
“Every time the Congress asserts itself, it begins to make a difference,” Wyden said. “When the president said he had the legal right to interfere in justice department proceedings, the founding fathers didn’t come close to that decision.” The justice department is supposed to be independent, he continued, the attorney general representing the people. Wyden alluded to proceedings in the Second District of New York, where the judge is determined to keep U.S. Attorney General William Barr from interfering.
Someone brought up comedian Bill Maher’s, theory that “Trump’s not going anywhere,” that he would not vacate the office, even if he lost the election.
“The law is very clear,” said Wyden. “The tradition here is basically right at the fabric that keeps the country together. I continue to believe that at some point, Republicans in the Senate and the House, and that might well be the point, they’re going to say, ‘not going there.’”
Mitt Romney was one senator who spoke out, Wyden pointed out, also revealing that in private, some Republicans revealed they don’t agree with what the president is doing. Wyden cited targeting cultural sites in Iraq as a line the U.S. should never cross.
Wyden continued to be optimistic and encouraged his constituents to engage others, particularly those with Republican representatives.