Merkley meets with Pendleton

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, speaks to a crowd at BMCC’s Bob Clapp Theatre in 2018.

Voters across the region will gain an excellent opportunity to give input and ask questions at a series of town hall meetings this week sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

The Democratic lawmaker will be in Wheeler County for a 2 p.m. Thursday session at the Wheeler High School gym. Later that afternoon, he will hold a town hall meeting in Gilliam County at the Gronquist Building in Arlington at 5:30 p.m.

Merkley will also sponsor town halls in Harney and Grant counties.

Merkley likes to tout the fact that since he took office in 2009 he has held a town hall in every one of Oregon’s 36 counties at least once a year, and that kind of effort deserves praise.

His willingness to step into the rural sections of the state that are — for the most part — deeply conservative shows he is not a “democratic” lawmaker but the senator that represents all the people of this state.

While Merkley surely deserves credit for canvassing the state to gather input, the real focus of the town halls should be — and is — voters.

Whether you are Republican or a Democrat, town hall sessions like the ones sponsored by Merkley are invaluable tools for democracy. Each session gives folks from rural areas the opportunity to voice concerns or offer praise to the men and women who represent us in Washington, D.C.

Venues for a give-and-take kind of discussion with senior lawmakers are dwindling. That’s why when a town hall — such as the two hosted by Merkley — is announced voters should mark it on their calendar or clear their schedule to attend.

Democracy works only when the people who make up that type of government actually participate. And political participation often lags in the United States. We’re not talking about the quick blurb on Facebook or the last tweet on Twitter. For far too long, social medial has served as a new type of political discourse that is both interesting and, in the end, discouraging.

Americans must participate in their government for it to succeed. That means paying attention to what city government does or how county elected leaders are doing their work, and it also means taking time out to attend town hall sessions like Merkley’s. We are all creatures of habit, and once in the routine of shrugging off a lawmaker as a “Democrat” or a “Liberal” or a “Republican” then we stop being active in our democracy.

Town halls offer one of the best ways to participate in our form of government that, when it works, is pretty extraordinary.

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