Town hall focuses on Iraq

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., addressed a mostly supportive audience at Southern Oregon University's Music Hall, where he held a Town Hall forum on the war in Iraq on Friday.

"I wanted to thank you for your vote," Traci Dow, one of the first people to approach a microphone, said. "We can't have war as an answer to our problems."

Many of the attendees echoed Dow's comments. Carol Voison, an SOU teacher who challenged Rep. Greg Walden, R- Hood River, in the November election, said she was "deeply appreciative" of his efforts, and encouraged him to seek the vice presidency.

Despite a round of applause, Wyden declined the offer, saying he is happy being the "designated driver for the U.S. Senate" while many of his colleagues campaign for the position.

"One person has to stay behind to work on health care," Wyden said, breaking his own rule about keeping the focus on Iraq.

State Rep. Peter Buckley was among the approximate 100 audience members. He said to Wyden, "This community is adamantly against the invasion of Iraq. You can't go too far. Whatever you need to do in D.C., we've got your back."

This was Wyden's third town hall forum this week on the Iraq war. Others were held in Eugene and Portland. He said he picked these three cities, not for their liberal leanings, but because they are population centers and each has a state university.

Wyden stated that September would be a critical month in the debate on the war because General David Petraeus, the military commander in Iraq, will testify before congress with a progress report.

He said the general's appearance will amount to "one of the most important debates by government in recent years."

Wyden added that the Senate is close to having enough support to change the nation's stance on the conflict.

"We are seven votes away from being able to stop the war in Iraq.

Wyden, one of the senate's biggest critics of the war, is one of only 23 senators to vote against the authorization of the war in October of 2002. In May of this year, he was one of only 14 senators to vote against a supplemental funding bill for the war.

But not everyone in attendance shared Wyden's position on Iraq.

Steve Daneman, of Ashland, was the only audience member to speak in favor of the war.

"Even if we leave Iraq, we'll still be in a world war against Islamic fascism," Daneman said, as he continued to speak after being warned he had overextended his allotted time.

The crowd eventually tried to drown him out with shouts of, "No, no, no."

Still standing at the microphone, Daneman replied, "Apparently they don't want to have a conversation."

Wyden thanked him, told him his role as devil's advocate was not an easy one, then disagreed with Daneman's assertion.

"What does it mean to win in Iraq?" Wyden said. "My definition is if we can help bring about some measure of political stability."

Wyden said that wouldn't happen until the U.S. "stopped trying to dictate a military solution."

Kris O'Driscoll, of Jacksonville, also took a less-than-popular position on national affairs. She said a fence should be constructed at the Mexican border to keep out drugs that are being used to fund terrorists around the world.

This time Wyden was in agreement.

"I have supported a fence," he said. "It's a national security issue."

But Wyden tried to bring the conversation back to the war in Iraq, stating that the nation's talk about Iraq instead of immigration issue speaks "to flawed priorities."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or . RVTV will televise the Town hall on Ch. 9 (Mon. 8/21, 8 p.m.; Tues. 8/23, 4 p.m.; Thurs. 8/24, 4 p.m.) and on Ch. 14 (Weds. 8/22, 10 p.m.; Fri. 8/24, noon; Sat. 8/25, 10 a.m.; Sun. 8/25, noon)

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