Bates Gears Up for Southern Oregon Rematch Against Republican Dotterrer

The healthcare establishment has come out solidly behind the doctor and 14-year-veteran of politics from Ashland, but Republican business interests are backing Col. Dave Dotterrer in a rematch of the closest race from 2010, when Democratic Sen. Alan Bates held on by fewer than 300 votes.

One of Oregon’s healthcare leaders is in the political fight of his life this fall, with a rematch against a formidable Republican opponent who came within 300 votes of knocking off Bates in 2010.

The battle is playing out in Jackson County between Sen. Alan Bates and Dave Dotterrer, a retired Marine colonel and former assistant to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy. Senate District 3 includes both Ashland, one of the most liberal communities in the state, and Medford, which is solidly Republican.

Dotterrer wants to make the 2014 election into a referendum on the Democrats’ mishandling of the Cover Oregon insurance exchange launch, and says he saw the writing on the wall in 2012 that the system was going to fail, referencing the same Maximus independent reports that Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, has used in his underdog challenge to Gov. Kitzhaber.

“It was very clear that this project was not on-track,” Dotterrer told The Lund Report. “This was your check-engine light going on.”

Dotterrer worked at the state Capitol at the time as an assistant to Richardson, who was co-chairman of the Committee on Ways & Means. During the 2013-14 sessions, he worked as an aide to the Republican caucus.

Who Is Col. Dotterrer?

The retired colonel has the close-cropped haircut befitting a military man, and he served his country for more than three decades before returning and retiring to Oregon. “I was in the Marine infantry battalion when they evacuated Saigon,” he said.

He served much of his time as a “risk and contingency guy” for the military, which he said made it all the more painful to watch Cover Oregon fail so catastrophically while he sat mainly on the sidelines.

Dotterrer was also concerned the state may have bit off more than it could chew by expanding the Medicaid program, not knowing if it could afford the price tag in later years. The key questions he’s concerned about are whether the state can come through with the savings promised by the CCOs and if the state can maintain and rely upon the bait-and-switch of the hospital assessment tax to produce its share of Medicaid costs.

“The healthcare expansion is putting at risk other programs like education,” Dotterrer said.

If elected, he wants to empower the legislative fiscal office to produce five- and ten-year fiscal reports so that the Oregon Legislature, like Congress, wouldn’t have to rely on the executive branch for information.

But Tom Powers, the spokesman for the Senate Democrats campaign for Bates, presented Dotterrer’s work with Richardson as a liability -- noting that the tough 2011 budget, which was forced to make steep cuts to education and social services, also included tax relief for the wealthiest Oregonians.

A look at Dr. Bates

Bates, the affable “country doctor” of the state Legislature, known for carrying his medical bag for emergencies that arise in the Capitol, served Ashland in the House of Representatives starting in 2000; he ascended to the Senate seat for Ashland and Medford in 2005.

“It’s going to be neck-and-neck all the way through,” Bates told The Lund Report. “It’s the closest race in the state.”

A family osteopathic doctor by trade, he has kept an active private medical practice on top of his active political schedule of the past 14 years. With a plain-spoken Western twang, Bates has been the go-to guy for healthcare issues in the Senate, capable of simplifying complex medical issues and explaining them candidly to the public and reporters.

Even though his base is in Ashland, Bates was stopped twice by his constituents on Central Avenue in Medford as we strolled through downtown for the interview.

He’s also not afraid to buck the establishment. A former medical officer at Providence’s Rogue Valley Medical Center, Bates lauded autism advocates after their court victory over his former employer: “This ruling brings relief and certainty to these long-suffering families struggling to get what their kids deserve,” he said in a press release after the class-action ruling last month.

“He can tell the story about what real people are feeling,” Powers, the Democratic spokesman said, noting his interactions with patients, including house calls. Bates doesn’t just understand the coordinated care transformation from 10,000 feet like most Oregon politicians -- he’s contracted with the CCOs of southern Oregon and treats patients in the Oregon Health Plan.

“CCOs for the most part are doing an incredible job,” said Bates, noting the reduction in emergency room visits, even as though they have a long way to go to fully integrate physical and mental health.

The senator is quick to point out that Dotterrer’s answer about how to move forward with the Cover Oregon debacle is no different than his own or other Democrats’: pull the plug on the independent agency and roll the remaining state functions into a state agency, such as the Oregon Insurance Division.

Bates said a key remaining challenge for the state was the chronic problem of getting people with severe mental illnesses and addiction problems linked up with services that work. The latter issue has become a jobs problem -- he said.  Boise Cascade added a new shift to its White City mill only for dozens of applicants to walk out when they learned they would need to take a drug test.

He acknowledged concerns that the state will begin to have to pay for a small portion of the Medicaid expansion, but asked what other choice Oregon had. To him, cutting those people loose without access to health insurance, turning away billions of dollars in federal money and pushing the cost of care onto hospitals is just not acceptable. “In other states, the health systems are screaming to get them to expand Medicaid. They’re all falling in line,” Bates, said, alluding to the recent decision by Pennsylvania as the latest state to belatedly expand its Medicaid program.

Election Playing Field

Powers said the Bates race, and a surprising challenge to Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, were the Democrats’ top defensive races. The Democrats hope to pick up a seat in Corvallis as the Corvallis Rep. Sara Gelser, a key advocate for people with disabilities, takes on Sen. Betsy Close, a conservative from Corvallis’ sister city, Albany.

Other hot races include the south Clackamas County seat held by conservative Republican Sen. Alan Olsen, the Hillsboro seat of moderate Republican Sen. Bruce Starr, and the race for the moderately conservative Republican Sen. Chuck Thomsen’s seat. Based in Hood River, the seat also includes the Gorge section of Multnomah County, north Clackamas County and a corner of East Portland. It is the only part of the city in Republican hands.

The Democrats have recruited former Clackamas County Commissioner Jamie Damon to challenge Olsen and Sandy small business consultant Robert Bruce to take on Thomsen. Former Rep. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, is attempting to return to office in a second rematch of 2010 against Starr.

Campaign Finance

Bates has raised a total of $208,100 since the start of 2013; Dotterrer has fairly evenly matched him in the same time frame with $201,300 -- but Bates told The Lund Report this was misleading because it doesn’t count other money that the Republican Party and its allies were spending outside Dotterrer’s campaign.

The entire healthcare industry has come out to support the osteopathic physician from Ashland, with 12 of Bates’ top 16 contributors hailing from the healthcare sectors.

His top contributor is the Low Income Dental Political Action Committee, organized by Mike Shirtcliff, CEO of Advantage Dental, which has given him just under $20,000 since the start of 2013. Shirtcliff did not return a call seeking comment by press time.

The Oregon Health Care Association, an alliance of senior healthcare providers, came in a close second at $17,500, while the Oregon Medical Association has spent $13,300 on Bates. The Douglas County doctors’ organization and the Salem doctors’ group each gave him $11,500.

Bates also received $9,500 from SEIU’s political action committee; $7,000 from the Coalition for a Healthy Oregon and $5,000 from Dr. Bud Pierce, the Salem oncologist and former president of the Oregon Medical Association.

He received $2,000 from the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and $2,500 from Regence BlueCross BlueShield. The drug companies collectively gave Bates $10,200, led by Eli Lilly with $4,500. During the short 2014 session, Eli Lilly tried to sneak an amendment through the Legislature that would have prevented pharmacists from prescribing generic insulin, but the maneuver was stopped after it was exposed by The Lund Report.

The largest contributor to Dotterrer’s campaign has been the Senate Republicans’ Leadership Fund, which has given $50,100 directly to his campaign, both with cash and in-kind assistance such as staffing. His biggest non-party contribution has come from one individual -- the Medford psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen M. Greenleaf, who has cut him checks totaling $28,000.

Longtime Republican donor Stimson Lumber was third at $10,000, followed by the Associated General Contractors, with $7,500. Proctor & Gamble gave Dotterrer $2,600, but otherwise the healthcare industry, even those entities that traditionally back Republicans, are sticking with Bates.

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