After the government shutdown in 2013, I embarked on a “listening to the future” tour of Oregon schools so students on the cusp of voting in a couple years’ time could have the opportunity to engage directly with elected officials.
On Tuesday, May 1, at 9 a.m., I will be continuing in that tradition at the Prairie City School new gym when I hold an open-to-all town hall for the entire community.
The community meetings are part of my pledge to hold annual town halls in each of Oregon’s 36 counties.
The equation is basic: “annual town halls” plus “listening to the future” adds up to an “Oregon Way” success story where students and adults show the entire country how to take on tough topics and seek solutions.
Recently, I held open-to-all town halls in schools in Wheeler, Gilliam, Umatilla, Morrow and Sherman counties. (The week’s sixth town hall in Union County was at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.).
Students in those communities proved again that “listening to the future” produces smart and civil discussions that show common ground exists on challenging issues.
Many of the questions by students and adults at those town halls in Wheeler High School, Condon High School, Umatilla High School, Riverside Jr./Sr. High School and Sherman Jr./Sr. High School focused on what can be done to reduce gun violence. Other topics included healthcare, DACA, the environment, college affordability, foreign policy, veterans services, the rural economy and more.
All difficult-to-solve subjects.
Yet, in each instance, students had done their homework and came prepared to ask good questions. Parents, teachers, school staff and communities should all be proud.
I have no doubt the town hall on May 1 in Prairie City will generate a similarly thoughtful and productive session.
Oregon voices at these “listening to the future” town halls can have an impact on generating lasting solutions.
Let me be specific: In the last five years at town halls, I heard time and again from Oregonians frustrated about wildfires tearing through their communities and threatening their homes and businesses — in large part because fire prevention work was being shortchanged.
I learned about the “fire borrowing” madness in which federal agencies “borrow” money from essential wildfire prevention work to fill budgets for battling the big blazes.
Working with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), we crafted the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act that lets federal agencies, such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, better plan for wildland fires and devote the resources necessary to fight them.
And recently, Congress passed our legislation to halt the short-sighted practice of “fire borrowing.”
The legislation will not end wildfires, but it will help the federal government be a smarter partner for Oregon and the West with wildfires.
The bill took some pushing, pulling and prodding. But wildfire funding marks a great example of how community voices — I call it “people power” — can help to shape a solution and eventually prevail.
I am equally confident that some of the conversations in Prairie City School on May 1 can lead to fresh ideas that may help achieve solutions on challenges that remain.
Like any good conversation, the discussion is ongoing. And if it’s anything like my recent town halls, I expect young people at Prairie City School will be helping on May 1 to lead the way.
Ron Wyden, a Democrat, is a United States senator from Oregon.