Hours before the town hall meeting was set to begin, county residents began to trickle in to the Linn-Benton Community College Activity Center. As hours turned to minutes, the clamoring of concerned citizens rose, followed by thunderous applause.
On Feb. 4, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden held his Town Hall meeting at the LBCC Activity Center, in Albany, Ore.
Albany’s Mayor Sharon Konopa greeted the crowd and commended Albany for the kind of environment it provided for all people.
“We are a community that is respectful for all mankind,” said Konopa.
She also stated that this was the largest Town Hall turn out in the city’s history.
Senator Wyden discussed the current political atmosphere with over 1500 LBCC staff, students, and citizens, including a discussion about what he has been doing to represent Oregon on the federal level. Wyden described it as “The Oregon Way,” a core set of values that each of Oregon’s citizens hold.
Wyden opened his town hall meeting, attacking newly-elected President Donald Trump’s travel ban, and using Fatemeh Reshad, the 4-month-old Iranian girl in need of emergency heart surgery, as his example of the country’s “moral bankruptcy,” that he described as a “thinly disguised religious test on people coming into our country.”
“This cruelty runs contrary to American values and runs contrary to Oregon values, and as long as I have the honor to represent you, we will be pushing back against these flawed policies,” said Wyden.
Wyden spoke about Kellyann Conway and her statement that President Donald Trump had no intention of releasing his tax returns. Wyden stated that there is legislation that every nominee must release their tax returns.
”Releasing those tax returns is the lowest ethical bar,” said Wyden.
According to Wyden, Conway had to change her position.
An audience member asked Wyden what he thought of President Donald Trump’s “belligerence” when it comes foreign affairs, which Wyden said has been poorly executed This was in reference to President Donald Trump conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Jan. 28, when Trump objected to an agreement over the U.S. receiving refugees.
Wyden described the responsibility the audience has when it comes to flawed policy, which is to “…speak up, push back, and offer smart alternatives.”
The senator then spoke on what he had said to FBI director James Comey regarding connections within Trump’s campaign to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and how he and his cohorts are going the distance on the issue.
The next person to speak was Pete Boucot of Lebanon, a veteran and a Jewish-American, who is very concerned with the behavior in Washington D.C. He even went as far as to say “Steve Bannon is a white supremacist.”
Wyden responded, saying that he, too, understands where Boucot is coming from, as he is a “first-generation Jewish-American” himself. Wyden said that we will see more radical views from the Trump Administration in the next few weeks.
Wyden spoke about Congressman Steve Price, stating that if Price gets sworn in as secretary of health and human services, Price will do everything he can to take away health care choices for women.
“This is why I am fighting this nomination so hard,” said Wyden “I am in this fight every step of the way.”
Another audience member asked Senator Wyden about where the U.S. is going when it comes to the topic of climate change and why it has become a “partisan” issue. Wyden joked: “You’re being way too logical for Washington D.C.”
“People in the business community will be the first to start paying attention to the oceanic changes,” said Wyden “It’s not there in congress right now, but I think it’s going to be moving that way…”
The senator spoke about the supreme court nominee attempting to take away a unique law of Oregon’s, the Death with Dignity Act, which gives patients in hospice the right to end their life when they see fit, as opposed to being forced to live out the rest of their lives. Wyden reflected back when the House of Representatives tried to throw out the Death with Dignity Act, stating that he was willing to shut down the senate if they didn’t let Oregon keep this law.
“It’s not too early to talk about impeachment, could you comment?” asked Joseph Postman, a citizen of Philomath.
“My job is to use all the tools that I have within the United States Senate to protect the Oregon way and to protect our values,” Wyden responded.
The audience continued their questions and concerns about whether or not Wyden was going to make the effort to get President Trump impeached.
“Two weeks ago, I sworn office to represent a school board, and I swore to protect the constitution of the United States,” said Sami Al-AbdRabbuh, wielding a copy of the constitution, “When are you going to support impeachment?”
Wyden did not give a clear “yes” or “no” answer, but instead talked about the opposition he had to the nominee for CIA director, Mike Pompeo. Wyden said that the Trump administration tried to “short-circuit” the debate process in favor of Pompeo.
“How ill-advised it is to single out seven countries like that?” said Wyden, in response to the travel ban put in motion by the Trump administration. “It is wrong, and it is not what this country is about.”
Nachi Del Sol, an audience member originally from Buenos Aires, thanked Wyden for coming out and speaking with the community. Del Sol talked about how different it was to come to the U.S., to Corvallis, and that during the first 10 years of her life, it was a dictatorship.
“For me, the fact that we are here, that we have the freedom to be here, and go, that we have the freedom to be able to speak,” said Del Sol, holding back tears. “is the most amazing thing.”
She asked the audience to think about ways they could help facilitate, and welcome those that may be considered “different” with open arms, and asked Senator Wyden “What are you going to do to facilitate togetherness and openness?”
Senator Wyden took a second to talk about his father’s experience coming to the United States. His father spoke no English, and felt very alone at first, understanding where Del Sol was coming from.
“We are a nation of immigrants, what is so flawed about these executive orders is that it defies common sense and defies American values,” proclaimed Wyden. “You don’t stand alone.”
Story by Hannah Buffington
Photos by Emily Goodykoontz