Aug. 12—LA GRANDE — As part of his reelection campaign, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Oregon, hosted a town hall meeting at Eastern Oregon University — his alma mater — Thursday, Aug. 11, to speak to residents from around the region.
"The college is such an asset to this area and I'm so happy that it's here," Bentz said. "So happy to be here today."
Boy Scouts from La Grande Troop 514 kicked off the town hall meeting with the posting of the colors. Bentz and approximately 34 town hall attendees recited the pledge of allegiance once the American and Oregon flags were placed in their stands.
Bentz, a third-generation Oregonian, grew up on his family's cattle ranches in Harney County. Growing up without resources like a telephone, television or electricity for several years, he said he recognized from an early age that the "proper approach to dealing with the government" was to be involved in politics.
"I realized that if we were going to be represented in Eastern Oregon, someday I wanted to get to Congress," he said. "I also realized that would require education."
He pursued his undergraduate degree at EOU and served as student body president during his time in La Grande. He went on to attain his juris doctorate from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland.
For over 30 years, Bentz practiced law, specializing in water law and ranch reorganizations. Before his time in Congress, he served in the Oregon Senate, representing the 30th district in Eastern Oregon. He also served in the Oregon House of Representatives, representing the 60th district.
Margie Anderson, one of Bentz's campaign team members, drew orange raffle tickets from a red plastic bucket to call up community members for questions.
The first few questions Bentz fielded came from individuals in the crowd wearing red "Health Care for All" shirts. One individual asked about inflation, and the impact of worldwide tensions, including Russia's war against Ukraine.
Bentz noted the Ukrainian war's impact on increased energy costs, supply chain impacts, and global access to wheat, but he posited that inflation began before the onset of the conflict. He said his vote against the March 2021 $1.9 trillion stimulus bill was informed by economist Larry Summers' claim that adding more money into the economy would cause more inflation.
"I think we're seeing just how hard it is to stop inflation once it starts," he said.
The congressman was asked about the $2,000 countable resources limit for individuals — particularly those with disabilities — accessing social security income. He also received questions about his stance on Medicaid.
Bentz touted that he did not want to get rid of Social Security or Medicare, and noted that he would challenge the thought that the majority Republican party wants to do either.
He outlined his roles as the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee and committee member on the House Judiciary Committee, noting that his work often doesn't allot time to investigate issues being tackled by other congressional committees.
"You have not heard anything about Medicare in my recitation of my committee's business, it's not there," he said in response. "But we will look into it because it is super interesting."
Bentz also received a question about his recent vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, passed in July.
In response, Bentz quoted former president Donald Trump, who, when asked about his position on same-sex marriage in 2016 said, "It's the law, it was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean, it's done."
Bentz expressed that "everybody" should know he is in favor of marriage between a man and a woman, but said he knows that's not the law. For him, the motivation for voting in favor of RFMA was to express that he had "no objection whatsoever" to interracial marriage — a recognition included in the bill.
"In my mind, I was not inclined to have the entire, huge area that I represent be accused of being against interracial marriage," he said. "I don't want all you people, all my constituents, to having to wear a vote I would've made."
When asked about who he sees rising to the national level for the 2024 presidential election. Bentz mentioned that those who may run already have high profiles — what he called "the usual suspects." According to Bentz, his work in Congress has helped him realize that elected officials are just people, too.
"We are truly in this together, right?" he said. "Whoever we select is just gonna be another person."
During the meeting, Bentz explained the rationale behind his vote against the PACT Act, a bill set to support veterans exposed to toxic substances during military service. According to Bentz, he and fellow Republican representatives voted against the bill to send a message to the Senate that the $400 billion became an "accounting gimmick" when house Democrats changed the funding from discretionary to mandatory spending.
"Who had the courage to run up that bill to try to save the $400 billion and then come in here and get blamed for voting against the PACT Act?" Bentz said. "Me. And why? Because I know what's best for this country."
One of the final participants asked Bentz about the "continuing degradation of the rule of law" among politicians in Washington, D.C, specifically referencing the search of former president Donald Trump's Florida residence.
In response, Bentz noted that he had signed onto a letter earlier that day — written by Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan — to the FBI demanding information on what he called "the Mar-a-Lago situation."
"We're still gathering more information, but Jim jumped all over it," he said. "We are addressing this at the highest level."
As Bentz wrapped up the meeting, he welcomed EOU president Tom Insko, who was in attendance, to the front of the lecture Hall. Bentz gifted him a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol building and a certificate of authenticity, thanking him for his time at the university.
Shannon Golden is a reporter for The Observer. Contact her at 541-624-6015 email@example.com.