THE SENATOR’S BUSINESS
PORTLAND Shortly after he defeated Republican Gordon Smith in early November, U.S. Senator-elect Jeff Merkley caught his breath just long enough to talk briefly about how he would address the challenges facing Oregon businesses. The upset by Merkley, the former Democratic speaker of the state house, was the first time in 40 years that an incumbent Oregon senator has been unseated.
Q What have you heard from the business community about its biggest issues?
A While I was running, what I heard from the business community was that they didn’t think I could win. I don’t fault them for it. It is always David vs. Goliath when you take on a sitting senator. I didn’t get their support against an incumbent, but I’ll certainly be responding to their issues. I look forward to a full partnership.
Q The economy has tanked and everyone is hurting. What do you do first to help Oregon’s economy and businesses?
A We have to fuel the economy by creating living-wage jobs. We do that on two fronts: investing in infrastructure and in green energy. We cannot build a strong economic future if we are depending on foreign oil. The first press conference I went to [after being elected] was on infrastructure. This is just absolutely critical and needs to be funded. There is a long list of infrastructure projects [in Oregon] ready to go.
Q What are the biggest business issues in the state?
A The soaring cost of health care is a huge issue. When President Clinton came into office there wasn’t much consensus about fixing the health-care system. But I’m hearing from large and small employers that the system doesn’t work. There is now common ground to address this issue. [To combat low wages] we need to have strong universities to attract the knowledge economy and the higher-paying jobs. That is essential. We want strong employers to be attracted to Oregon. We need to expand and grow many of our business clusters. Our biggest opportunities are that we don’t have as much exposure to the housing collapse [as some areas.] And we have extraordinary potential in alternative energy.
Q Has the president-elect called to congratulate you?
A No. He may be a little occupied right now.
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