Jeff Merkley has dedicated himself to fighting for opportunity for Oregon’s families. The son of a millwright, he grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood where – as Jeff says – his mother “stretched a dollar as far as anyone possibly could.” Today, he still lives in that neighborhood and his kids have gone to the same public schools he attended. Jeff has lived the American dream and has focused his whole career – both in elected office and running non-profits – on making sure that all Oregonians have the same opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Jeff’s policy studies began at the dinner table. Each night his father read the newspaper, turned on the evening news, and discussed ways to improve our communities and our nation. The first in his family to attend college, Jeff studied international relations and, at age 19, began his career in public service as an intern for former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield – never imagining that he would one day return to hold Senator Hatfield’s seat.
Because Jeff saw first-hand at home and in his neighborhood that a good-paying job is more effective than any government program, Jeff’s top priority in the Senate has been creating jobs and laying the foundation for economic growth that benefits working families, not just the stock market. He successfully led passage of the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act to help local communities replace aging sewer and drinking water systems and save ratepayers money. He expanded Buy America programs so that taxpayer dollars are spent on American steel and other materials whenever possible, and wrote legislation to crack down on unfair and illegal trade practices that threaten Oregon jobs.
Jeff has been a leader in bringing accountability and oversight back to Wall Street. He authored one of the toughest amendments in the Wall Street reform bill to separate hedge-fund-like gambling from traditional banking that businesses and families rely on. And he’s fought to keep families in their homes and end the predatory practices of the subprime mortgage crisis by writing the law that ended egregious mortgage lending practices and banned hidden steering payments, liar loans and prepayment penalties.
Jeff knows firsthand how important a strong public education system is to building strong families as well as a successful economy. He’s worked to increase investment in Head Start and K-12 education, including sponsoring legislation to boost career and technical education and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teaching in public schools. He’s been a fierce advocate to lower student loan rates and make college more affordable for middle class families, cosponsoring a bill to allow refinancing of student loans and introducing innovative legislation based on Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” concept that would allow more students to attend college debt-free.
Jeff believes that a secure retirement is a key pillar of the American dream, and has pushed back against both Democrats and Republicans to ensure we don’t weaken Social Security and Medicare or cut the benefits that seniors have earned with a lifetime of hard work. He introduced the Fair Raises for Seniors Act to ensure that Social Security cost-of-living adjustments more accurately keep up with the expenses seniors face, and has been an outspoken supporter of the Medicare Protection Act to prevent efforts to weaken, privatize, or “voucher-ize” Medicare.
To make the Senate more effective in taking on special interests and working for the middle class, Jeff challenged his own leadership to support a historic reform of the chamber’s rules to prevent gridlock and promote debate. Thanks to Jeff’s push, the Senate was finally able to put a cop on the beat to stop big banks from taking advantage of their customers and prevent the oil and gas industries from decapitating the agency charged with keeping our air and water clean. Jeff is nationally recognized as a reformer working to break Congressional gridlock and reform the Senate so it will be more responsive to the needs of ordinary middle class families.
Jeff’s work in the Senate is a continuation of a lifetime of working to make Oregon and the world a better place. During his term as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, Jeff led a legislative session The Oregonian deemed one of “Oregon's most productive in a generation.” Under Jeff’s leadership, the state legislature increased education funding, expanded access to affordable prescription drugs, established domestic partnerships and a landmark civil rights law to protect LGBT Oregonians from discrimination, cracked down on predatory lending, and created Oregon’s first-ever rainy day fund. Prior to running for office, Jeff ran several non-profits in Portland, including Portland Habitat for Humanity, which empowers low-income families through homeownership.
Jeff is a member of the Appropriations Committee; the Environment and Public Works Committee; the Budget Committee; and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He and his wife Mary Sorteberg, a nurse, have been married for more than twenty years and have two children, Brynne and Jonathan, and an Airedale terrier, Sadie.