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Meet Jeff Merkley

Son of a working family

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley was born in the small town of Myrtle Creek, Oregon, the son of a sawmill worker. He spent his early years in Roseburg, a community where the children of loggers and mill workers learned the value of honest work, good neighbors, and strong families.

Later, when the Merkleys moved to Portland, Jeff's father pointed to the doorway of the elementary school and said, "Those doors are the doors to opportunity. Study hard and you can pursue any dream."

Jeff took his father's words to heart. He worked hard at his studies, but he played hard, too, running cross-country, playing tennis, and competing in public speaking. He spent a summer as an exchange student in Ghana. To no one's surprise, Jeff's peers recognized his leadership, and elected him student body president at David Douglas High School.

Early leadership on foreign policy

After earning his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, Jeff won a full scholarship to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, where he obtained his Masters Degree in Public Policy. In 1982, he won appointment as a Presidential Management Fellow, which gave him the opportunity to tackle several pressing issues in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. While serving as a Presidential Fellow, he focused his analytical talents on the critical problems of safeguarding American military technology, verifying arms treaties, and assisting the U.S. delegation to NATO.

Jeff's next stop was Congress, where he worked in the Congressional Budget Office, analyzing programs and policies for strategic nuclear weapons. These demanding, high-level experiences prepared him for the problems and priorities that U.S. Senators must confront in their vital role in shaping American foreign policy.

A passion for helping people

Jeff Merkley

But Jeff's interests went beyond foreign affairs and strategic weaponry. In 1991, he and his wife, Mary, returned to Oregon.

Jeff's passion for creating opportunities for working families led him to join Habitat for Humanity as its local executive director. In this role, he coordinated community volunteers to build homes for sale to low-income families. He also started the Walk for Humanity, launched development of the Habitat Home Building Center, and initiated a pilot project for "YouthBuild," in which gang-affected youth learn life skills while building homes in their own neighborhoods.

His work at Habitat led him to serve as Director of Housing Development at Human Solutions, where he helped create affordable housing, a real need in the community. He founded Oregon's first Individual Development Account (IDA) program to help low-income families save money to buy homes, attend college, or start businesses.

Jeff later served as President of the World Affairs Council of Oregon, a position he held for seven years. He continues to serve on the Council's Board of Trustees. In 1998, the voters in Portland's House District 47 elected him to the Legislature, where he now serves in his fifth term.

A record of achievement and leadership

In September 2003, Jeff's fellow Democratic House members elected him the House Democratic Leader. He won reelection by acclamation in 2005.

When the Democrats took control of the Legislature after the 2006 election, the full Oregon House elected Jeff Merkley to the office of Speaker. He proceeded to lead one of the most effective, efficient and progressive legislative sessions in Oregon's history.

As Speaker of the House, Jeff Merkley fought to provide a full school year for every student in Oregon, with reasonable class sizes and excellent academic programs.

He fought to make health care more affordable and accessible, and passed tough new ethical standards for politicians and public officials.

He spearheaded passage of a rainy day fund, which will protect public education and critical state services during downturns in the economy.

He fought for new jobs, and long-term investments in Oregon's economy, because he believes that every Oregonian should have a chance to pursue his or her dreams.

He championed historic anti discrimination legislation and made Oregon one of only a handful of States to legalize domestic partnerships.

He helped pass historic investments in alternative energy and made Oregon a national leader in reducing emissions that cause global warming.

He worked with Veterans to pass legislation that made it easier for soldiers returning from Iraq to be hired for civil service jobs.

As Speaker, Jeff Merkley worked to fashion a bright future not only for his own children, Jonathan and Brynne, but also for every child and family in Oregon -- a future with family-wage jobs, affordable healthcare, a clean and healthy environment, and safe and attractive communities.

As our U.S. Senator, Jeff Merkley will carry the fight for Oregon's regular working families to our nation's capital. 

Posted September 4, 2007

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© 2007. Jeff Merkley for Oregon. P.O. Box 29136, Portland, OR 97296. (503) 274-4439
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