By Aubrey Wieber

The Bulletin

PRINEVILLE — U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden continued his spree of town hall meetings Tuesday, with a stop at Crook County High School where several hundred Central Oregon residents showed up to hear the senator opine on the uncharted political waters many Americans feel the country has entered.

“I really admire Sen. Wyden, and wanted to thank him for the things he is attempting to stop,” said Ruthy McKenzie, a 70-year-old Prineville resident who showed up as a way to be politically active. McKenzie said she has many concerns following the election of President Donald Trump — and wants to see Wyden push for Trump to release his tax returns.

Many in attendance echoed McKenzie’s overarching fear of the political climate. When attendees asked questions, they often expressed fear of a number of issues, rather than one specific thing. Wyden, a Democrat, thanked the crowd, which consisted of about 170 Crook County High School students and several hundred Central Oregon adults.

The stop was the seventh on a tour of 11 town halls. The day before he was in Sisters, and he will hold a meeting in Madras on Wednesday.

Wyden touched on a variety of topics, including climate change, bipartisan legislation, relations with Russia, health care and immigration.

While many in the crowd appeared to be in line with Wyden’s policies, Mike McCandless, a 59-year-old retired construction worker, was hoping to see how open-minded Wyden would be about the new administration.

“I would like to hear about Obamacare, and what his plan and opinions on that are,” the Prineville resident said. “Immigration is important, and education is important.”

McCandless said while he didn’t vote for Trump, he finds himself in agreement with the new president on these issues. He supports building a wall on the Mexico border and wants to see a cut in education spending. He said the Affordable Care Act was a failure and should be repealed.

McCandless acknowledges that he differs from Wyden on many issues but said he voted for the senator and is optimistic Wyden will consider backing Trump administration policies.

“It seems like he is fighting everything that Trump comes up with, but in my opinion he needs to look at that with an open mind, just like I am trying to do here,” McCandless said.

The new president seems to have provoked an interest in politics for many. Hank Stern, spokesman for Wyden, said the town hall meetings have been well-attended. Monday’s meeting in Sisters filled up with around 700 people, Stern said, and a Sunday event in Eugene brought as many as 2,000. Upon taking the stage, Wyden asked how many in the crowd were attending their first town hall meeting, and the vast majority raised their hands.

One such person was Joel Tinsley, who came to learn more about his community. The 63-year-old moved to Powell Butte two years ago and wanted to suss out the issues weighing on his neighbors.

“I’m new to the community, and figured it was time to find out what my community is all about,” he said.

Tinsley said he didn’t know too much about Wyden but wanted to get his thoughts on repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the sale of public lands. Tinsley said while the health care law has flaws, it also allows him to have insurance, which was vital to him as a cancer survivor. And with the proposed sale of the Elliott State Forest moving forward, he is curious about other plans for Oregon’s public lands.

“Part of the reason we live in Oregon is public access to public lands,” he said. “I just want to make sure I’m still allowed access.”

Wyden touched on the preservation of public lands and said he is in some ways encouraged by Trump’s pick to head the Department of the Interior: Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. Wyden said Zinke has a history of promoting access for hunting and fishing, which falls in line with what Wyden called the “Oregon way.”

However, Wyden said Oregonians need to fight to keep air and water clean under an administration that has largely claimed climate change is a myth, or at best a low priority.

When asked about immigration, Wyden responded it was one of the central issues of our time. He told the crowd about his father, who escaped Nazi Germany. Upon landing on America’s shores, he enlisted in the U.S. military to help defend his new country. His message resonated with the crowd, garnering applause as he proclaimed his stance on tougher immigration policies being pushed by the Trump administration.

“America is a nation of immigrants,” he cheered.

— Reporter: 541-383-0376,