What You Don't Know About OR-Sen Candidate Merkley
by Sarah Lane, Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 04:12:43 PM EDT
Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley is most well known for his work in the Oregon House. As Minority Leader, Merkley helped engineer a Democratic takeover of the House and ended sixteen years of Republican rule. Merkley was unanimously elected Speaker of the House, where he led the most progressive, productive, greenest and labor friendly session we've seen in thirty years. But, what people don't know about Merkley is he has extensive experience in national security policy and international relations. Follow me below the fold to learn more about Jeff Merkley.....
Full disclosure, I am the netroots director for OR-Sen candidate Merkley
Before Merkley became a national security analyst at the Pentagon, it's interesting to take a look at the path that led him to the DOD. When Merkley was a teenager, he took part in a student exchange program through the American Field Service where he spent time in Ghana and Uganda. His time living in Ghana humbled him and gave him a world view he hadn't been exposed to before. His travels and work abroad didn't end there, here's a snippet from a Ridenbaugh Press article:
In the summer of 1976, when he was 19 and a student at Stanford University in California (his major and eventual degree was in international relations), Merkley interned for Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield, getting some exposure to the way the federal government worked. A year later, with the Carter Administration in place, he returned to the Beltway for another internship, with a nonprofit organization working on negotiations concerning the law of the sea.
There were more internships and work projects on international relations in the late 70s and early 80s, an extensive list. He worked at one point for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York City. He worked for a Quaker organization in a village in Mexico building and operating a camp involved with environmental issues. (While there, in 1980, he and a friend toured much of Central America as well, traveling cheaply; this was a violent period in the region, and Merkley recalls how on one occasion in Guatemala he spotted a man lying in the street to help him up before realizing he'd been gunned to death only moments before.) He was an editorial intern with Foreign Affairs magazine. After graduation at Stanford in 1979 he attended graduate school at the nationally-known Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. One of those Stanford semesters was spent at Florence, Italy, which he effectively used as a base for hitchiking through Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean, to and around the West Bank. Sandwiched in between the Stanford stretches in 1981 he was an intern for the Foreign Service New Delhi, India, and travels in that area. He was graduated from Princeton in 1982.
His travels abroad helped shape his views and eventually put him at odds with his work at the Foreign Service at New Delhi. Here's another snippet:
During his internship with the Foreign Service in New Delhi, he said, he found it was becoming an agency simply reporting back to Washington on local conditions, and staffers were discouraged from anything that smacked of "going native"; Merkley said that when he went to another country, he liked to immerse himself in the culture.
Merkley left the Foreign Service and applied for one of the most prestigious positions in International Relations. Merkley applied to become a Presidential Fellow for the Secretary of Defense's office. Merkley was an unlikely choice for the Pentagon considering his lack of military experience, but he had other qualities that made him an exceptional candidate for the job. Here's another snippet:
Many Defense applicants typically have strong military background, which wasn't on Merkley's resume. As he interviewed for the job, he recalled, early questions had to do with his background - working for the Quakers, focus on non-military foreign relations, and notably his internship for the pacifistic Hatfield. "Why would we hire someone like you for the Department of Defense?" he recalled being asked. Merkley said his reply was that national security and defense involves the military but also needs to include much more, taking in a broad understanding of the world, and he contended a voice like his should be part of the mix at the Pentagon. He got the job, and a top secret security clearance.
At the Pentagon, Merkley was a national security analyst working to bridge the gap between the right-wing policy folks and the scientists. After his fellowship ended at the DOD, he worked for the CBO as a nuclear arms analyst. Working under Reagan as a national security analyst at the CBO had its share of challenges. Merkley was disenchanted by the secrecy and war spending by the Reagan Administration which made his job incredibly difficult. He decided to resign from the CBO and spoke out in an editorial in the NY Times against Reagan's outrageous war spending. If this isn't proof of some serious backbone, I'm not sure what is.
Merkley is not your typical politician. He not only brings serious legislative skills to the table if elected, he brings a viewpoint and breadth of knowledge on International Relations that would serve the American people well. Considering Merkley's national security experience, Randy Stapilus from Ridenbaugh Press asked whether Merkley would seek a position on the Armed Services Committee:
Would Merkley pursue a spot on the Armed Services Committee, or related work, if he's elected? That was less clear. "You know, you don't have lot of choice when you're a freshman senator," he said. But he added, "It's important to have senators who have enough background to distinguish between a real threat to national security, from the manufactured threat to national security."
If you'd like to watch Jeff talk about the road that led him to the Defense Dept. go here.
If you'd like to help send Merkley to the Senate, you can donate via MYDD's Road to 60 Act Blue page.