Candidates take differing approaches
Democratic Rep. Mitch Greenlick says he'll pursue long-held goals of universal health coverage for all Oregonians and a merger of Portland State University with Oregon Health & Science University if elected Nov. 6 to a ninth and final term.
Republican opponent Elizabeth Reye says she shares the first goal — though not Greenlick's way of achieving it — and has a different plan for higher education.
Greenlick and Reye appeared together Monday, Oct. 22, at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum. They are running in District 33, which extends from Northwest Portland into Washington County, including Bethany and Cedar Mill.
As of September, Democrats accounted for 43.7 percent, Republicans 18.6 percent and nonaffiliated 32.2 percent of registered voters.
Greenlick, 83, was first elected in 2002 after a narrow loss two years earlier. He is a retired professor of public health at Oregon Health & Science University. He has been chairman or co-chairman of the House Health Care Committee since 2007.
Oregon's uninsured rate has dropped from 18 to 5 percent, largely due to the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan, which now covers one in four Oregonians.
"I had a lot to do with that (decline)," he said at the forum. "If it weren't for weird stuff in Washington, D.C., we could be even closer."
Greenlick was a chief sponsor of a proposal that would have declared health care a right under the Oregon Constitution. The House cleared the amendment on a party-line vote in 2018, but it died in the Senate and did not go to voters.
"I am committed to make it finally happen," he said.
Reye, 40, is a neuroscientist with a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University.
"I do not approve of a constitutional amendment that will make it very expensive," she said. "I have not seen anything that the government has completely taken over that it has done well with. I would like to see universal health care, but I doubt our current way of doing it is going to work."
Reye criticized Greenlick's campaign contributions — he has raised almost $43,000 in 2018, compared with $600 for Reye — but Greenlick said he has supported measures to change the system. Greenlick also said Reye erred in attributing contributions to him from Kaiser Permanente, a former employer — and also a nonprofit that is barred from giving.
Reye said too little of Oregon's income taxes go to schools. About 40 percent of the state general fund, which relies on income taxes, goes to school aid.
"We're taking the money from the children and we're giving it to our general fund and paying for other things — and that's wrong," Reye said.
But Greenlick said that statewide property tax limits that voters approved in the 1990s deprive local districts of the means to raise their own money, except for construction bonds. (Districts also can seek local-option levies, which can last no more than five years.)
"It (limit) essentially took away local control of schools and handed it over with the requirement that the state fund schools out of the state general fund — and creates a 90-person school board in Salem," he said.
Greenlick said he harbors hope for a joint House-Senate committee looking at schools.
Greenlick has been a longtime advocate of the merger of Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University. He also said he favors free or reduced tuition.
Reye said she would work toward Georgia's plan, which uses lottery proceeds to provide scholarships to qualifying students. Both Oregon and Georgia use lottery proceeds for education, although the Oregon Lottery — which voters created in 1984 to provide money for economic development — supports a variety of programs.
On transportation, Reye said Portland should have a westside bypass to complete a highway loop around the area, similar to Atlanta and Phoenix, where she once lived.
"Why don't we?" she asked.
"The real issue is urban planning," Greenlick responded. He said traffic congestion could be eased if thousands of workers could live in Washington County, instead of commuting to their jobs from elsewhere.