U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says Oregon is in the eye of the storm when it comes to health care. The current bill being considered in the Senate would deal a body blow to rural Oregon, Wyden says.
MOLLY J. SMITH / Statesman Journal

Amid an extended battle to undo aspects of the Affordable Care Act and an escalating fracas between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Oregonians largely kept their focus on education and the economy at U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s town hall Friday at Stayton High School.

Some acknowledged tensions swirling around North Korea and health care, but it was the other issues that often elicited the largest responses from the crowd of a couple hundred people. 

“It’s clear that they’re very troubled by these large, overarching questions,” the Oregon Democrat said afterward. “That’s why I try to always be as specific as I can (during town halls) in terms of what’s on the line.”

One student, Andrew Hagen, asked if Wyden supported increasing funding for metal shop classes after Wyden brought up the importance higher education and technical training have to the economy. 

“Metal shop is the only reason I’m still in school,” Hagen said. “Welding, machining, ag, it’s all important.”

Wyden said he did, and suggested trying to get businesses to come into the school to help with education and provide career paths for students.

“The job fair concept is really good, the question is can you build on it so that you have something that works on a sustainable basis,” Wyden said.

Tass Morrison, a member of the North Santiam School District board, expressed concern that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was spreading misinformation about school choice.

“She wants to move public education dollars available to all to private education facilities. I am against that, period,” Wyden said.

Afterward, Morrison said people need to keep a focus on education. While issues like the North Korean threat and climate change require international cooperation, education can be figured out entirely within the United States’ federal and state governments.

“They’re all so critical and all such major issues,” Morrison said.

One of the first questions of the afternoon went to Stayton High School student body president Bradley Phelps, who asked if there was any way Congress could get past its pervasive partisanship. 


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