Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator
from Oregon
Assumed office
January 3, 2009
Serving with Ron Wyden
Preceded by Gordon Smith
64th Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 2, 2009
Governor Ted Kulongoski
Preceded by Karen Minnis
Succeeded by Dave Hunt
Member of the Oregon House of
from the 47th District
In office
January 3, 1999 – January 2, 2009
Preceded by Frank Shields
Succeeded by Jefferson Smith
Personal details
Born October 24, 1956 (1956-10-24) (age 55)
Myrtle Creek, Oregon
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mary Sorteberg
Residence Portland, Oregon
Alma mater Stanford University (B.A.)
Princeton University (M.P.P.)
Profession Budget and Policy Analyst, Congressional Budget Office
Religion Lutheran – ELCA

Jeffrey Alan "Jeff" Merkley (born October 24, 1956) is the junior United States Senator from Oregon. A member of the Democratic Party, Merkley was a five-term member of the Oregon Legislative Assembly representing House District 47, located in eastern Multnomah County within the Portland city limits. He also served as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.

He defeated two-term Republican incumbent Gordon Smith in the 2008 U.S. Senate election.


Early life

Merkley was born in Myrtle Creek, Oregon to Darrell and Betty Merkley.[1] He attended first grade in Roseburg before moving to Portland with his family.[2] He graduated from David Douglas High School, obtained a bachelor of arts degree in International Relations from Stanford University in 1979, and earned a Master of Public Policy degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1982.[3][4]

Early political career

After completing his master's in 1982, Merkley was selected as a Presidential Management Fellow, working at the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the security of American military technology. After his fellowship, he worked in the Congressional Budget Office, analyzing nuclear weapons policies and programs.[5]

Merkley returned to Portland in 1991 to serve as executive director of Portland Habitat for Humanity.[6] He also started the Walk for Humanity, initiated the Journey for Mankind, launched development of the Habitat Home Building Center, and initiated a pilot project for “YouthBuild” in which gang-affected youth built homes in their own neighborhoods.[7] He served as Director of Housing Development at Human Solutions, where he worked to make available affordable housing complexes[8] and launching Oregon’s first Individual Development Account (IDA) program that helps low-income families save money to buy homes, attend college, or start businesses.[9] Jeff Merkley was President of the World Affairs Council of Oregon[10] for seven years and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.[11]

Oregon legislature

In 1998, Merkley was elected as a Democrat to the Oregon House of Representatives to represent his east Portland district (now District 47). He succeeded Frank Shields, who moved from the House to the Oregon State Senate due to term limits.[12] In its endorsement, The Oregonian predicted that Merkley was the most likely of several Democrats to "accomplish something positive in the Legislature."[10] Following the 2003 session, he was elected Democratic leader, and after Democrats gained a majority in the Oregon House in the 2006 Oregon statewide elections, he was chosen (in a unanimous vote of the 31 incoming Democrats) to serve as Speaker of the House in the 74th Oregon Legislative Assembly.[3]

During Merkley's tenure as Speaker, the Oregon House passed several pieces of legislation: it created a state "rainy day fund" (a savings account to protect public schools against an unstable economy); increased funding in Oregon public schools by 14 percent ($1 billion) and by 18 percent ($1.4 billion) in state universities; banned junk food in schools (effective 2009); expanded the Oregon indoor smoking ban; revised the Oregon Bottle Bill; outlawed discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and in the workplace; and gave same-sex couples state-granted rights, immunities, and benefits.[13]

U.S. Senate

2008 election

Jeff Merkley campaigning for Senate

On August 13, 2007, Merkley received the endorsements of Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski and former Democratic Governor Barbara Roberts.[14] He was endorsed in December 2007 by the Oregon AFL-CIO, the state's largest labor federation. The union's leaders cited Merkley's 97% record of voting in the interests of working families, and his electability in a general election against the incumbent senator Gordon Smith.[15] Merkley was the first federal candidate to be cross-nominated by the Independent Party of Oregon.

Merkley won the Democratic nomination to challenge Smith in 2008, narrowly defeating activist Steve Novick and four others in the Democratic primary.[16] Given the difficulty of running against an incumbent senator, Merkley was initially thought to have only a moderate chance of unseating Smith. But in July 2008, a Rasmussen poll showed Merkley with a lead over Smith, albeit within the margin of error.[17] By August, after strongly negative campaigning on both sides, Rasmussen reported that Merkley's support had deteriorated, with Smith taking a strong lead in the polls. Merkley's favorable rating was at 42%, while his unfavorable rating had risen to 45%.[18]

Polls taken shortly before the election indicated that Merkley's standing had once again improved, with Merkley's 12-point deficit turning into a slight lead.[19]

On election night, the Merkley-Smith race was too close to call, but media outlets including The Oregonian called the race for Merkley on the morning of November 6, and Smith conceded later that morning.[20] Having defeated Smith by 3 percentage points, 49% to 46%, Merkley became the first person to unseat an incumbent Oregon senator since 1968. He formally resigned his seat in the Oregon House in a letter to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury on January 2, 2009.[21] He was sworn as a Senator on January 6, 2009.


Merkley has accumulated a progressive record during his Senate career to date. Merkley became the first Democratic member of the Senate to announce that he'd vote against the confirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, citing Bernanke's failure to "recognize or remedy the factors that paved the road to this dark and difficult recession." As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Merkley became a leading force in the effort to pass the Wall Street reform bill. Merkley championed an amendment known as "Merkley-Levin" or the "Volcker rule" which banned high-risk trading inside commercial banking and lending institutions. In 2010, Merkley successfully included the Merkley-Levin amendment in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill during conference committee. Merkley also championed an amendment that banned liar loans, a predatory mortgage practice that played a role in the housing bubble and subsequent financial collapse.

He was a founding signatory of a mid-February 2010 petition to use reconciliation to pass legislation providing for a government-run health insurance program in the Senate.[22] Merkley also championed legislation that provides new mothers with a private space and flexible break times to pump breast milk once they return to work. Merkley's breastfeeding amendment was included in the health care reform law and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

In late February 2010, Merkley again made headlines when he unsuccessfully tried to persuade Republican colleague Jim Bunning of Kentucky to drop his objection to passing a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans. Bunning replied, "Tough shit." A spokesman for Merkley claimed that the Oregon senator did not hear Bunning's remark at the time.[23]

In late 2010, Merkley began circulating a proposal to his fellow Senate colleagues about the need to force Senators to filibuster in order to block legislation. In 2011, Merkley introduced a bill to reform the filibuster and help end gridlock in the Senate. He was joined by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Committee assignments

Source: 2009 Congressional Record, Vol. 155, Page S729

Political positions

Iraq war

Merkley supports the Reid-Feingold Amendment, a plan for redeploying troops from Iraq,[24] and has his own five-point plan for stability in Iraq:[24]

  • Removing all combat troops starting right away and completing the redeployment in six to 12 months
  • Eliminating permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq
  • Engaging Iraq’s neighbors in a diplomatic effort to secure the peace, particularly Turkey, Iran and Syria
  • Removing all American contractors from the country and replacing them with Iraqi contractors, and
  • Directing our attention toward stronger engagement with the Iraqi Parliament and Courts

In March 2008, Merkley became the first[25] U.S. Senate candidate to endorse the Responsible Plan to End the War In Iraq.[26]

Health care

Merkley is a cosponsor of the Healthy Americans Act, the health care reform bill sponsored by fellow Oregon senator Ron Wyden.

Merkley voted yes on the Senate's healthcare bill.

Merkley discusses healthcare during the recent Senate debate with the freshman Senate class of 2009

Social issues

Merkley has publicly announced support for same-sex marriage and introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the Senate during the 111th United States Congress as S. 1584.[27] BlueOregon, a progressive Oregon blog, commented on the suitability of Sen. Merkley to be lead sponsor of ENDA, noting that as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Merkley had successfully guided Oregon's state version of ENDA, the Oregon Equality Act, to become law.[28]

In 2010, Merkley cosponsored legislation to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), and allow gay Americans to openly serve in the military. In March 2011, Merkley cosponsored legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), legislation that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Impeachment of Alberto Gonzales

On August 20, 2007, Merkley called for the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.[29]

Personal life

Merkley and his wife, Mary, have two children, Jonathan and Brynne. Brynne appeared with Merkley in several campaign ads in the 2008 campaign.


  1. ^ Roots Web. Retrieved February 5, 2009. 
  2. ^ Sowell, John (December 19, 2006). "Morgan, Hanna will remain on Ways & Means Committee". The News-Review (Roseburg). Retrieved July 26, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b Har, Janie (November 13, 2006). "With long hours and teamwork, the brainy guy can win the day". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on November 15, 2006. Retrieved February 23, 2007. 
  4. ^ "Representative Jeff Merkley". New Jersey Citizen Action. Retrieved July 26, 2007. 
  5. ^ Jeff Merkley for Oregon. "Meet Jeff Merkley". Archived from the original on January 21, 2008. Retrieved January 27, 2008. 
  6. ^ McNichol, Bethayne (November 7, 1993). "First 'Adopt-a-Home' gets joyous sendoff". The Oregonian. 
  7. ^ "Jeff Merkley biography". Oregon House of Representatives. Archived from the original on September 27, 2006. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 
  8. ^ Spicer, Oskar (November 3, 1995). "Housing advocates fear budget cuts doom low-income projects". The Oregonian. 
  9. ^ Nkrumah, Wade (December 28, 1995). "Whose fund for housing should it be?". The Oregonian. 
  10. ^ a b "Nominate Merkley, Hansen". The Oregonian. April 13, 1998. Retrieved January 29, 2008. 
  11. ^ "Board of Trustees". Retrieved October 24, 2008. 
  12. ^ Stern, Henry (February 25, 1998). "Term limits spur candidacy musical chairs". The Oregonian. 
  13. ^ Staff, Oregonian (June 27, 2007). "Major Actions by 2007 Oregon Legislature". Retrieved January 23, 2008. 
  14. ^ Kulongoski, Roberts to Co-Chair Merkley for Senate Campaign – Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate, Oregon
  15. ^ Steves, David (December 12, 2007). "Rep. Merkley gets backing of AFL-CIO". The Register-Guard. Retrieved January 24, 2008. 
  16. ^ Walsh, Edward (May 21, 2008). "Merkley scores chance to take on Smith". The Oregonian. Retrieved May 21, 2008. 
  17. ^ Rasmussen Reports, July 16, 2008, Oregon Senate: Merkley tops Smith for the first time 43% to 41%
  18. ^ Rasmussen Reports, August 7, 2008, Oregon Senate: Incumbent Smith Regains Lead, Still Receives Under 50% Support
  19. ^ SurveyUSA, September 24, 2008, Results of SurveyUSA Election Poll #14432
  20. ^ Esteve, Harry; Noelle Crombie (November 6, 2008). "Jeff Merkley plunges into his new job in the U.S. Senate". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 6, 2008. 
  21. ^ Pope, Charles (January 2, 2009). "Merkley steps down as Speaker; next stop, Capitol Hill" (Article). Politics. The Oregonian. Retrieved January 2, 2009. 
  22. ^ Chisholm, Kari (February 17, 2010). "Merkley calls on Reid to push public option via reconciliation". BlueOregon. 
  23. ^ Barrett, Ted (February 27, 2010). "Lone senator blocks unemployment benefit extensions". CNN International. 
  24. ^ a b Jeff Merkley for Oregon (November 13, 2007). "Ending the Iraq War". Archived from the original on November 23, 2007. Retrieved January 23, 2008. 
  25. ^ [1][dead link]
  26. ^
  27. ^ Pope, Charles (June 26, 2008). "Some gay-rights advocates question Oregon senator's commitment". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 21, 2010. "Merkley supports gay marriage." 
  28. ^ [2]
  29. ^ Jeff Merkley (August 20, 2007). "Impeach Alberto Gonzales" (Press release). Retrieved December 21, 2008. 

External links

Oregon House of Representatives
Preceded by
Frank Shields
Member of the Oregon House of Representatives from the 47th District
Succeeded by
Jefferson Smith
Political offices
Preceded by
Karen Minnis
Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Dave Hunt
Party political offices
Preceded by
Deborah Kafoury
Minority Leader of the Oregon House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Wayne Scott
Preceded by
Bill Bradbury
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Oregon
(Class 2)

Most recent
United States Senate
Preceded by
Gordon Smith
United States Senator (Class 2) from Oregon
Served alongside: Ron Wyden
United States order of precedence
Preceded by
Kay Hagan
D-North Carolina
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Mark Begich

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