Oregon Republicans Flip Coin with Alley and Pierce to Challenge Brown

The two leading GOP candidates for governor met this week in Washington County to explain to voters how they’d be the best state leader and best to challenge Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. They touched on healthcare issues like mental health and the opioid crisis. Businessman Allen Alley decried the “cabal of special interests” in charge in Salem, but both candidates oppose limits on campaign finance.

Salem oncologist Dr. Bud Pierce wants the state to fund and coordinate pain management clinics to stem the opioid addiction crisis while the computer engineer and former Pixelworks CEO Allen Alley said he’s open to greater hospital price transparency to make health savings accounts more effective.

The two top GOP candidates for governor, Pierce and Alley met at the weekly Washington County Public Affairs Forum in Aloha on Monday, laying out their respective platforms and fielding questions from forum members on topics from drug testing for food stamps recipients to campaign finance reform.

Before the meeting, Pierce told The Lund Report that he wanted the state to better prioritize physical education and recess for school children to promote a culture of physical fitness, but he wanted schools and districts to be free to construct their own programs.

To combat the opioid crisis, he wanted a culture of support for physicians to return to prudent prescribing practices, more coordination with pain and mental health specialists, and not a culture of fear where doctors might worry about punishment from the state.

In an interview after the meeting, Alley said he wanted to promote health savings accounts where consumers have an incentive to comparison shop for healthcare. Greater hospital price transparency would be part of that conversation.

The forum was a far cry from the Republican presidential debates; rather than take shots at each other’s candidacies, personal or otherwise, the two seemed ready to endorse whoever wins the May 17 primary and stick to their vision for the state while limiting any ire to the Democrats and Gov. Kate Brown:

“It’s not your vision that’s failing -- it’s the political class in Salem that’s failing you,” Alley said ”Kate Brown took office in a cloud of corruption and scandal, and they’re passing the most partisan agenda.”

Sleeper Race without Big Names

Still, Alley’s late March entry into the race, and longer list of endorsements from Republican legislators, shows the party wasn’t satisfied to just let Pierce run with their mantle this year. Pierce, an oncologist, has his base of support in Salem and frequently attaches himself to Abraham Lincoln, Tom McCall and Teddy Roosevelt -- Republicans who would have an odd time fitting in the current party of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and George W. Bush.

Both men have also worked across the aisle with Democrats -- Pierce was appointed by former Gov. Kitzhaber to work on medical tort reform while Alley was employed by the state as a policy advisor to Gov. Kulongoski -- offering the Democratic leader a contrarian, Republican view on policies.

Pierce is a past president of the Oregon Medical Association and became a millionaire through his medical practice and management of an oncology business in Salem. Alley, who ran for treasurer in 2008 and chaired the Oregon Republican Party from 2011 to 2013, has an even more successful business background as the CEO of Pixelworks. Neither have held elected office.

Pierce questioned the outsize role of the Oregon State Hospital system in providing mental healthcare and pushed for better funding of a community-based delivery system. “We all agree on mental health equality but we don’t fund it,” he said.

Pierce is far more knowledgeable about healthcare policy and other policy specifics, while Alley takes a more broad-level approach to state government, decrying the leftward push of Democrats on labor, environmental and tax policy issues, condemning the minimum wage hike to $14.75 and warning against a union-backed measure to raise billions in corporate tax dollars. “They call it a tax on sales but it’s really a sales tax,” he chided.

Alley said government spending in Oregon has gone up 63 percent in the past ten years, which sounds like an alarming number except that it was mostly federal tax money that would not have come back to Oregon if the Legislature hadn’t approved it, and a large portion of that was the billions of investment in Oregon hospitals and providers through the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan through the Affordable Care Act.

When pressed for questions, Alley couldn’t say whether he would have rejected Medicaid expansion or if he would seek to turn it back. “I need to learn more about that,” he said. He primarily cautioned that the federal government could renege on its commitments to Oregon at any time, leaving the state on the hook for the greatly expanded program. “What happens when they go away? … I don’t know how we support that.”

No Campaign Limits for Cabal of Special Interests

Alley also took aim at the “cabal of special interests and lobbyists” who call the shots in Salem. But, when it came to addressing Oregon’s system of unlimited campaign donations that fuels the power of those special interests, both candidates dismissed the idea of capping those donations.

“If I don’t have resources, I don’t have a chance,” said Pierce, who said he simply wanted the free flow of money to be transparent and without the so-called “dark money” in which oligarchs like the Koch Bros have used to bankroll “Super PACs” and other political advocacy organizations.

“The key is transparency,” echoed Alley, who said at least in governor’s races, the campaign funding has been flat at $5 million. The Republicans haven’t won any of those races since 1982, but with the easy exception of Kitzhaber’s 2-to-1, 35-of-36-county victory over Bill Sizemore in 1998, the GOP has been competitive.

Whether that will hold true this year is left to be seen -- Brown will be tough to beat in a presidential year where the Democratic presidential candidate can expect an easy win in Oregon, and better-positioned candidates like Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, decided not to run, leaving open the option of a more competitive governor’s race in 2018.

Alley has reported $315,000 in campaign finance contributions, all in the past two months. The donations are led by $50,000 from Stephen Harder, president of Portland-based Harder Mechanical Contractors. He also received $25,000 from perennial Republican financier Stimson Lumber, California venture capitalist Mark Stevens, and Erika Miller, the wife of millionaire Rick Miller, the founder of Avamere Health, which provides long-term care services to senior citizens.

Pierce has raised $1.5 million, but almost half of that, $716,000, came from his wife, Selma Pierce, and himself. His other top contributors include $50,000 from Salem businessman Larry Tokarski and $50,000 from Doctors for Healthy Communities, the PAC for the Salem-area doctors’ group.

He received $3,000 from the Oregon Medical Association and $2,500 from the Oregon Dental Association political committees.

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