By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) celebrated a milestone of sorts Wednesday in Keizer.
The Myrtle Creek native who once interned for Mark Hatfield and took over the former senator’s seat 33 years later held his 150th town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon at Keizer Civic Center.
It was the first such town hall in Keizer for Merkley, who went from being Speaker of the House in the Oregon Legislature to the United States Senate after winning election in 2008.
Not surprisingly, one of the first topics Merkley brought up was the fiscal cliff from the start of the year.
“The good news is the first cliff is behind us,” said Merkley, who was holding his sixth town hall of the week. “The bad news is three more are coming right up. There are so many pieces not yet addressed. There’s a lot ahead of us to be paying attention to and working on.”
One of Merkley’s current projects is trying to reform the filibuster rule in Congress. He noted when Lyndon B. Johnson was majority leader, he only needed one cloture motion in six years. By comparison, Merkley noted majority leader Harry Reid had 391 such clotures.
“When I was an intern for Senator Hatfield in 1976, I saw a Congress that worked,” Merkley said. “It was a picture of legislature that works. Over the last two years, one appropriation bill has passed. We must change this if Senate is going to address the problems facing America.”
One recently debated topic has been gun control, particularly in light of the school shooting last month in Connecticut. Merkley noted a number of lawmakers are looking into the topic.
“We have to take a close look at strategies within the frame of the second amendment and the frame of effectiveness in addressing the challenges that have been identified,” he said. “There are a number of efforts going forward right now to try and provide more information and I’ll be paying close attention to the pros and cons of different strategies.”
At the same time, Merkley said the process has to be improved in order for their to be changes in control or any other topic.
“If we follow the strategy I’ve been championing, then these issues will get to the floor,” he said. “We’ll have a more open amendment process, we’ll spend less time on any given bill and be able to get to more bills that are coming out of committee.”
Merkley talked about the economy and the need for more jobs. He pointed to Keizer Station as an example of creating jobs and the risks that can come with it.
“What you have are efforts to develop a commercial infrastructure that can create jobs and economic vitality,” Merkley said. “But it’s not risk-free. I think as Keizer has wrestled with it, part of it has gone well and part of it has not gone well. But that’s a local strategy. What I feel it is impressive is when local communities work together to try to find a strategy that strengthens their downtown core, strengthens their economic vitality.”