About 100 people came to a town hall meeting with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at Roseburg High School on Saturday.
Wyden also held a town hall in Coos Bay on Saturday, and he will be in Brookings and Grants Pass on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively.
The town hall began with the Pledge of Allegiance and an introduction by Roseburg High School Principal Jill Weber. It was Wyden’s 938th town hall since he assumed office in 1996, but most audience members raised their hands when he asked who had attended one of his town halls before.
“I usually start with a few remarks, like maybe 45 minutes or so,” Wyden joked. “No, that’s not what this is about. I felt when I walked in there ... that I walked in to the faces of democracy.”
For more than an hour, Wyden took questions about national issues such as recent tensions with Iran and election security, as well as local issues such as economic development and forest management.
The questions largely favored Wyden’s politics, despite being in a county where 37% of voters supported him in his last election.
In an interview after the town hall, Wyden said he typically receives more opposition, and he planned to encourage people who disagree with him in Coos Bay to ask questions.
Four people asked Wyden about the Jordan Cove Energy Project, more than any other topic during the town hall.
The project would bring a 229-mile pipeline from Malin to Coos Bay, the site of a proposed international natural gas export terminal. In the pipeline’s 64-mile path through Douglas County, more private landowners’ properties would be crossed than any of the three other counties.
Although three people asked him to oppose the project, Wyden said he wouldn’t break his commitment to neutrality on the issue, which he said he made as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources between 2013-14.
“I said I’m going to follow this process like a hawk to make sure nobody fudges the environmental laws or any other law, but I’m not going to put my finger on the scale.” Wyden said referring to his commitment. “I have stuck to it because, I know it’s a quaint idea, but I still think when you say something and you pledge something to the people of Oregon, you oughtta, kinda, sorta, maybe, actually do what you said you would do.”
Despite voicing support for action on climate change when answering a different question, he said he is committed to letting Oregonians decide the fate of the project — reducing dependance on fossil fuels such as natural gas would be one way to act on climate change.
After an ironworkers union member asked him to support the project, he said the differences of opinion illustrate the need for Oregonians to debate the project without his judgement.
Wyden was asked twice about a recent escalation of tensions with Iran.
President Trump on Friday announced plans to send an additional 1,500 troops and a dozen fighter jets to the Middle East amid what he has said is an increased risk to U.S. interests and Americans in the region. Neither the White House nor the intelligence community have provided evidence or details of the threat.
“It’s not very hard to get involved in a military conflict, and it’s really hard to get out of them,” Wyden said. As member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he said he wanted to know more about “what actually did happen” to two Saudi Arabian oil tankers that were attacked shortly before the White House signaled raising tensions.
“On the eve of memorial day, when we think some much of those we’ve lost and those who are in harm’s way, I would really urge caution with respect to American involvement in this region,” Wyden said.
One of Wyden’s most forceful statements came when he spoke about maintaining the security of the U.S. election system.
The intelligence community has know for years that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election and even successfully hacked into official election systems.
Wyden said he is working to hold the company Election Systems & Software accountable for putting remote access software into its ballot counting machines.
“Which is about the equivalent of putting an American ballot box on the streets of Moscow,” Wyden said. “I’m not going to get into any classifieds, I think right now what we’re looking at in 2020 will make what happened in 2016 look like pretty small potatoes. We’re not just talking about Russians, we’re talking about a wide array of hostile foreign actors.”