10 Things You Didn't Know About Jeff Merkley

Merkley was elected to the U.S. Senate from Oregon.


1. Jeff Merkley was born in the small town of Myrtle Creek, Ore., in 1956. While his mother stayed home with Jeff and his sister, his father, Darrell, worked repairing equipment in the local lumber mill. He later worked in construction and as a logger and mechanic.

2. The Merkley family moved to a blue-collar neighborhood in Roseburg, Ore., and later to Portland. There, he attended David Douglas High School, where he was elected student body president.

3. As a high school student, Merkley spent a summer living abroad, choosing Ghana because he "wanted to go someplace completely different."

4. Merkley applied to top colleges and was accepted at Yale and Stanford. He picked Stanford because it offered a more generous scholarship. He graduated with a degree in international relations in 1979.

5. Merkley's interest in politics and policy were piqued while he was in college—he took a year off from his studies to live in Washington, D.C., where he had an internship in Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield's office. After graduation, Merkley traveled through Central America, where he saw violence firsthand.

6. Following his travels and an internship at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., Merkley studied at Princeton, where he earned a master's degree in public policy in 1982. He then returned to Washington, where he worked as an analyst for the Pentagon and the Congressional Budget Office.

7. Merkley returned to Oregon in 1991 when he was hired to run the Portland office of Habitat for Humanity.

8. Merkley was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1998.

9. Merkley was selected as speaker of the Oregon House in 2006 and announced the following year that he planned to run for the U.S. Senate. The choice was a surprise to many election watchers—he agreed to run after several better-known Oregon Democrats declined.

10. Merkley is married to Mary Sorteberg, a nurse. They have two children: a son, Jonathan, and a daughter, Brynne. The family lives in East Portland.


  • Associated Press
  • The Oregonian (Portland)
  • The Register-Guard (Eugene)
  • The Statesman Journal (Salem)