U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden hosted a town hall meeting Saturday in the Crook County Middle School gym to take questions on a wide range of topics.

A crowd of about three dozen people asked the Democratic senator from Portland his thoughts on the most pressing national issues, from health care costs to foreign interference in elections.

It was Wyden’s second stop Saturday in Central Oregon. He spent the morning in Bend, where he spoke at the Central Oregon Community College graduation.

In Prineville, Wyden enjoyed talking directly with the Crook County residents. He was impressed by some questions from two teenage sisters, who will be attending Crook County High School together in the fall.

Cecily Cooper, 13, an incoming freshman, asked the senator about the treatment of migrant children at the southern U.S. border, which Wyden said needs to be improved immediately.

Meredith Cooper, 15, an incoming sophomore, told Wyden about work she did in a leadership class last year to research the skyrocketing rates of teen suicide across the country. She asked if Wyden had any plans to help prevent those rates from increasing further.

Wyden said teen suicide is an issue he wants to learn more about. He asked Cooper if she thinks it would be helpful if more mental health counselors were in the schools.

“I feel like it would be more helpful, but it would also be a little more helpful if we had teachers involved and knowing what’s going on in kids’ lives,” Cooper responded. “Teachers who are showing an interest in what is happening and showing kids that they are there to help them.”

Wyden appreciated her feedback and asked her to share more recommendations with his staff.

Another issue discussed at the town hall was foreign interference in elections.

Wyden assured the crowd he is dedicated to fighting such interference and pointed to a proposed bill he sponsored, the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act, which would mandate hand-marked paper ballots and set new cybersecurity standards for all federal elections.

Without those protections, Wyden said, he worries about the 2020 election.

“As of right now, I believe what America is going to see in 2020 in terms of election interference from hostile foreign powers — and I’m not just talking about the Russians — is going to make the 2016 election look like very small potatoes,” he said.

At the town hall, Wyden also touched on his efforts to create laws that combat severe wildfires, an issue directly affecting Central Oregon.

“Rural Oregon is looking like a tinderbox already and here we are only in June,” Wyden said. “We have a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of fire risk.”

Wyden told the crowd how a new federal law will soon stop the government from using fire prevention funds to battle fires.

“In a matter of weeks, big fires will start getting treated as disasters and that way you don’t raid the prevention fund,” he said.

Saturday was Wyden’s 942nd town hall since he promised he would hold at least one per year in each of the state’s 36 counties.

He ended the Crook County town hall on an optimistic note, complimenting the crowd for thoughtful questions about the state of the country.

“I’m a believer that we can make it better in America,” Wyden told the crowd.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,