State Senator Alan DeBoer answered questions about wildfire, climate change and health care at a townhall meeting in Ashland Tuesday night. He also called for both major parties to come together as Oregonians.

About 40 Ashland residents came to the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship with questions, concerns and comments for the District 3 senator. DeBoer also held a townhall the previous night in Medford, saying the town halls are valuable opportunities for him to learn about his constituents.

Issues that will be coming up in February’s short legislature session were brought up at the town hall. Members of Ashland Youth Climate Action questioned DeBoer about his stance on the “cap and invest” bill and his plan of action about climate change.

“Ashland has a clear vision on how to reduce the impact of climate change and we need our state to as well,” Bella Mannray said, referring to the passing of the climate energy action plan ordinance in September. “How would you move forward to transition to clean energy to protect my generation?”

DeBoer said Oregon is moving toward the right direction with climate change by passing the $5.4 billion transportation bill, but added that he thought the climate bill “has no business in the short session.”

“That’s going to transit. It’s going to congestion. It’s going to improving roads and shortening vehicles miles traveled — It will do a lot for clean air,” DeBoer said. “It’s not all, but it’s a start.”

“We are there for 35 days … It’s for us to come up and take care of immediate problems,” he added. “The bill as it is doesn’t start in three years, so I don’t know what the hurry is to do it in 35 days.”

Other residents also urged DeBoer to vote yes on the climate bill.

“Climate change seems like it’s really urgent — I think the clean energy job bill does come up to the stand of an emergency and is appropriate for the short session,” resident John Lynn said. “I know you have expressed concerns about the bill, but we’ll have to wait forever to get a perfect energy jobs bill.”

“I’m going to school for environmental engineering, and I hope there will be an environment for me to engineer when I’m done,” a resident told DeBoer. “The sooner we start making actions, the sooner we start passing legislations — perfect or imperfect … I would just appreciate some urgency.”

DeBoer also utilized his platform to promote Measure 101 at the town hall, which will be on the ballot in 2018. The measure, which relates to a bill passed by state legislators in July, would require several health care providers and insurance companies pay more to keep low-income Oregonians insured.

“I’m going to vote yes on it — I urge people to vote yes on it,” he said. “A yes vote will support what’s been done in Salem, and a no vote will create a problem for us.”

The topic of wildfire — how and who to deal with it — was also brought up more than once.

“There are professionals who understand that, and I’m not one of those,” DeBoer said. “But we can bring them together and we’re not doing for profit, it changes the context of how we (fight the fire) — and how we fund it.”

DeBoer also emphasized that whatever the solution is, bringing it to court and keeping it there for years are not the answer.

“We need to figure out what we can do to manage our forest … and take care of the fires that are so hot,” DeBoer said. “Then figure out how to manage it if it starts to burn.”

Several individuals asked about DeBoer’s stance on the proposed 262-mile Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline from southeast of Klamath Falls to a liquified natural gas export facility near Coos Bay — a hot button issue in previous townhalls of other Oregon officials.

“What steps you will take to put pressure on these agencies and Governor Brown to deny permits to stop the project?” Annika Larson asked.

“I think it’s federal permits at this point,” DeBoer said. “Let’s see what the government does. I oppose the project …. None of the pipeline goes through my district, so I’m working with the senators that it does go through their districts.”

Towards the end of the townhall, when a resident questioned whether the Republican party “only exists to provide a cash flow for the 1 percent of the country,” DeBoer said instead of dividing the country, both parties need to work together for the people.

“I’m staying in the Republican party and hoping to change it — bring it to the middle,” he said, adding he hopes the Democrat party will do the same.

“We need to elect people who are going to bring people together — when you say, ‘my party’ or ‘you guys,’ that’s just not right. Let’s not categorize people. We need to elect people who become Oregonians representing the people.”

— Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.