ONTARIO — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, holding his annual town hall meeting in Malheur County Friday, answered a variety of questions that included most of the hot topics being discussed today in the news, including the use of drones, gun legislation and gay marriage. Most of questions came from students at Ontario High School, where the meeting was held in the gymnasium.
On gay marriage, Wyden told the audience, “If you don’t like gay marriage don’t get one.”
Later, when asked about the Defense of Marriage Act, which is the federal legislation that recognizes marriage as only between a man and a woman, Oregon’s senior senator said he is one of just three senators still serving who voted against the act when it was passed. He believes marriage is an area the federal government should not be butting into, he said. The Defense of Marriage Act was one of two cases involving gay marriage recently brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wyden opened the session by honoring Glen Crosby, a Korean War veteran, with a presentation recognizing Crosby for his service. Noting that the Korean War is often called the “Forgotten War,” Wyden said, “We are not going to forget our veterans.”
On guns and security at schools, the senator said he does not support arming every teacher.
His view about gun legislation, he said, is to make sure there is tough punishment for those who use guns when committing a crime and ensure that the mental health system is shored up and a background check system is in place that works. Also, he said, there needs to be a ban on the purchase of guns through second parties, known as straw purchases, Wyden said.
Asked about health care from a student interested in going into medicine, Wyden said he is totally opposed to government taking over health care and supports providing the same health care coverage available to members of Congress through the private sector.
On a question about marijuana use, Wyden said he supports the growing of industrial hemp, which is being sold in some food stores and promoted for its nutritional value. It is being grown in Canada, and farmers in the United States should be allowed to grow it, he said.
“If it can be eaten in Oregon, it ought to be to be allowed to be grown in Oregon,” he said. “Nobody is going to get high on hemp.”
About legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Wyden said he has heard arguments on both sides of the issue but does not support it at this time.
Wyden then tackled a question of immigration reform, saying he is very hopeful there will be a breakthrough. In his view, he said the United States needs to beef up security at the borders, enforce the laws on the books and there needs to be a penalty for employers who knowingly hire workers without documentation. For those workers already in the United states, Wyden said they should be given a path to citizenship if they pay a fine, can show they have not broken any other laws and have mastered English.
On other issues, Wyden said:
• He is strongly in favor of work requirements, for those who are able, as a prerequisite for obtaining public assistance, and have them enforced.
• He supports any community health programs, including contraception, that discourage abortions.
“Family planning that includes contraception is a great anti-abortion program,” he said.
• Wyden said he did not see anything in the U.N. Small Arms Treaty that would threaten Second Amendment rights, but invited the questioner and other people to alert him to their areas of concern.
• About drones, Wyden said they could be useful for such things as search and rescue, particularly in remote areas. However, he and fellow Sen. Ron Paul, who conducted a 13-hour filibuster on the issue, are concerned about the rights of the American people, he said, and the government needs to be open about the policies and rules of when it will use drones.
“Every American has the right to know when the government has determined it has the right to kill them,” he said.