Sen. Jeff Merkley Meets Constituents During LBCC Town Hall

Photo courtesy of Sen. Jeff Merkley

ALBANY – On a murky day with clouds covering the campus, U. S. Sen. Jeff Merkley arrived on campus to a crowd of about 50 people, each bringing their own questions and concerns to the town hall meeting. 

Merkley spoke at Linn-Benton Community College on Saturday Feb. 11.

The ceremony began with the mayor of Albany, Alex Johnson II, speaking to the crowd about his vision for the city, including helping to keep campus life and college attendance affordable for students and prospective students in Albany and the surrounding communities. 

After Johnson introduced the staff and students who helped to facilitate the senator’s visit at LB, Merkley stepped onto the stage, sporting a heavy winter jacket, microphone in hand. He thanked the audience for attending, and spoke about his upbringing in Oregon, mentioning that he never intended to become a politician, but rather intended to become a businessman.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping people, and the communities of Oregon have always been active in bringing their interests to the politicians of the state,” Merkley said. 

After this, the senator began to opine about current political events, both nationally and locally. Specifically, he mentioned the importance of reducing student loan debt and keeping homes affordable in Oregon. After this, he took questions from the audience.

The first question was about what Merkley and the state of Oregon plan to do about keeping healthcare affordable, and what might be done to expand the ability of citizens to select their own doctors. 

“I think that we have done a great job of making healthcare accessible to Oregonians, and many people are able to get the services that they need, but we might need programs that address medical debt for those who can only partially cover their medical costs.”

The next audience member brought to consideration the current quality of emotional health in Oregon, drawing from memory that the state of mental health treatment in Oregon ranks near the bottom of the nation. Merkley agreed with the assessment, declaring that many Oregonians do not know how to access appropriate resources, nor do many believe that it is affordable.

“I think,” Merkley said, “that we can bring awareness to the citizens of Oregon about the quality of mental health care that is available, even if they are not currently accessing it. Once people begin to receive the treatments and counseling, they tend to improve. (The Oregon Health Plan) does cover mental health treatment, and we are proud of the work that our professionals deliver. It can certainly improve, but a big part of the battle is helping people start treatment.”

The citizen thanked Merkley for answering their question and took a seat as the senator looked to the audience for the next question. As the event organizers brought the microphones to the members of the audience, the next question centered around student loan debt and what efforts might be made if the U.S. Supreme Court does not uphold President Biden’s plan to forgive student loan debt. 

Merkley responded by stating his support for the forgiveness of student loan debt. 

“While we won’t know what happens with the Supreme Court until they hear the case, I have always supported lessening the financial burden of attending college for Oregonians, and perhaps campaigning for a reduction of the interest on student loans might be helpful as well. We definitely need to keep college affordable for everyone.”

Merkley shared an anecdote about how a year of college could be paid for with a summer job during his youth, and how graduating without debt has become effectively impossible for too many students. 

Finally, Sen. Merkley spoke to the audience about the importance of voicing their concerns in town meetings, and how many topics that politicians address have originated in meetings like the one being held. 

Before relinquishing the microphone to one of the organizers, he thanked the audience for their participation and announced his departure to another political meeting. The audience applauded Merkley as he exited the Forum and began to disperse.

The organizers once again thanked the audience and invited them to attend town meetings across the state. One can hope that the meeting will facilitate more political participation on the Linn-Benton campus while bringing greater wellbeing to the citizens of Linn and Benton counties. Certainly, the students and citizens who attended and had their voices heard exemplified the mission of what Linn-Benton hopes to accomplish and bring to the community.

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