To Jeff Merkley, America has always been about giving underdogs a chance. After all, according to family lore, his grandmother lived for a time in a boxcar. Jeff’s dad overcame a debilitating illness as a teenager that left him hospitalized for a year – and yet he grew up to live a full life as a husband, a father, and a union machinist.
Working with his hands and his mind, Jeff’s dad earned enough that his parents could join the middle class, buy a modest ranch home, take camping vacations, and save for retirement.
And thanks to his parents and his public school teachers, Jeff was able to become the first in his family to go to college.
Jeff’s family’s story is the story of America creating opportunity. And he’s spent his adult life fighting for people who need a chance.
He led nonprofits to create affordable housing. He threw the payday lenders out of Oregon and put predatory mortgage lenders out of business across America. Jeff shut down the Wall Street Casino that crashed the economy and he passed bills for LGBTQ equality. He even had the police called on him outside Donald Trump’s border prison for migrant children.
Jeff still lives in the same blue collar neighborhood, but today, hope and opportunity feel a lot further away for his neighbors than they did for him. Their chances are different not because their families are different, but because America is different.
For decades, the privileged and powerful have rigged our politics and our economy. Now, three great crises threaten America:
A democracy crisis. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and dark money corrupting our ability to elect a government by and for the people.
A climate crisis afflicting our forests, our farms, and our fisheries — costing more and more families their lives and their livelihoods.
And an opportunity crisis strangling the American Dream, as affordable housing, quality education, health care, and good-paying jobs—the four foundations for thriving families—keep getting further out of reach.
If all Americans, in rural America, in our cities, in underserved communities, are to have a full measure of opportunity, Jeff believes we have to succeed in tackling these issues. And he knows the formula to get it done.
From his first election, jogging door to door with flyers printed from his home computer to beating two former state representatives, Jeff knows that grassroots movements are the key to changing how government works and who it works for.
Jeff led a people-powered, door-knocking Democratic takeover of the Oregon House for the first time in 16 years. He steered a one-seat majority to a string of progressive environmental, economic, labor, ethics, and civil rights victories that led the Oregonian to call the legislative session, “Oregon’s most productive in a generation.”
In 2016, Jeff played a key role rebuilding bridges within the party after the presidential primaries, and brought together grassroots progressive organizations with Democratic Senators to better coordinate our movement.
Today, Jeff’s leading the battle to make America a place where everyone has a chance to thrive, no matter which side of the tracks they grew up on, what they look like, or where they come from.