PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first time in more than a decade, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith appeared together this week for a television interview on KGW.

The Democrat and Republican served together representing Oregon in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, from 1996 to 2008, when Smith lost his seat to Democrat Jeff Merkley.

Smith is currently the CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Wyden and Smith sat down for an interview with Laural Porter, moderator of KGW's current affairs show "Straight Talk."

The two were in town for the Gordon and Sharon Smith New Freedom Award dinner sponsored by the Oregon chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Smith and his wife Sharon first won the award 11 years ago for their advocacy on suicide prevention following the death of their son, Garrett.

Garrett Smith
Garrett Smith.
Family photo

This year, Smith presented the award to his friend and former colleague, Ron Wyden, for his dedication to improving the nation's mental health care policies.

On "Straight Talk," Wyden said the two men are bonded like cement, because of the mental health challenges each faced in his family. Smith with the suicide of his son, and Wyden whose brother struggled with schizophrenia.

They agreed there's been much progress to bring mental illness out of the shadows, but said there's still much work to be done and they think it’s an issue that Congressional members can support.

“Mental health isn’t a Democrat issue or a Republican issue, it’s a human issue,” said Smith.

Wyden pledged to continue to work on mental health parity, putting it on the same playing field as physical health in any health care plan Congress passes.

He also said he is encouraged the Senate will soon pass a bill to improve mental health care in rural America and for the nation's veterans.

Ron Wyden Gordon Smith
Sen. Ron Wyden (left) and Sen. Gordon Smith.
KGW

On the subject of bipartisanship, Wyden said the New York Times once called the two Senators, "The Odd Couple," because they were the unusual pairing of a Democrat from the city of Portland, and a Republican from rural Pendleton who held town halls together.

Wyden and Smith said people expected them to be fierce adversaries, but instead, they put the needs of Oregonians first, and ended up fast friends.

Wyden talked about a recent visit to Westview High School where the students wanted to know why Congress today can't work together.

On "Straight Talk," Wyden said, "I think Oregon, as a trailblazer, can lead the way to extricate us from the forces that have pulled us apart. Gordon and I have shown Congress how it's done."

Smith and Wyden
From left, Sen. Gordon Smith, Sen. Bob Dole and Sen. Ron Wyden.
KGW

The two also talked about the role social media has played in polarizing Congress and the nation, and discussed the possibility of holding big tech companies, like Facebook, more accountable.

They also weighed in on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and the 2020 election.

Straight Talk airs Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and is available as a podcast as "KGW Straight Talk."

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