Tribune endorsement: Maxine Dexter, House District 33
On the afternoon we met Maxine Dexter, it was obvious we were not the most important audience she was playing to that day. As she walked into our office to join the endorsement interview in mid-March, she was mid-text with a message to the governor's office.
Dexter, a pulmonary and critical care doctor for Kaiser Permanente, was part of a group of Oregon physicians applying public and private pressure on Kate Brown to take stronger measures to combat the COVID-19 virus.
On March 13, when the multi-tasking MD walked through our doors, Oregon had yet to record its first coronavirus-related death — that would come two days later. But Dexter could see what the future held, and she was not happy with her characteristically cautious fellow Democrat in the governor's office.
If you want a glimpse of Oregon's future, she told us, take a look at Italy.
"This is going to happen here," she said. "We are not exceptional."
It's likely that Dexter would have received our endorsement even if this campaign was not playing out amidst a global pandemic. But if there was a time when the citizen-Legislature of Oregon could use some smart medical professionals in the mix, 2020 is it.
Make no mistake. Dexter is not a one-issue candidate. She can converse fluently about access to higher education (she was the first in her family to attend college), gun safety, climate change, reproductive rights and all the other issues that are important to this left-leaning district that stretches from Northwest Portland to the Bethany and Cedar Mill communities in Washington County.
But in Oregon, doctor-legislators tend to gravitate toward health care policy. Just ask the incumbent, Democrat Mitch Greenlick, whose impact on health care policy in Oregon may be second only to a former ER doc from Roseburg named John Kitzhaber.
Greenlick was not universally liked, but his retirement leaves a significant brain-drain in Salem, particularly on health care. The other three Democrats vying for this open seat are impressive, but none can match the skill set that Dexter will bring.
Of that trio, Andy Saultz presents the most tempting alternative to Dexter. Saultz, a Sunset High grad, taught high school social studies and served on a local school board in Michigan before returning to Oregon two years ago to teach education policy at Pacific University.
Married to an oncologist, he spoke passionately about the intersection of health and public education and likely would elevate conversation around that important topic in the statehouse.
Saultz, who has an impressive list of endorsements, from a Beaverton high school basketball coach to a pair of state senators, also is an appealing choice because his background suggests he might be more effective in forging bi-partisan alliances than the others in this race. Born on an Army base in Georgia and raised in rural Ohio, he's got the backing of both unions and the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce.
Christina Stephenson also brings an impressive résumé and list of endorsements to this contest. She's a native Oregonian and civil rights attorney.
Serrin Bussell, like the other three Democrats running active campaigns, has a punch-list that matches the constituency. The former chief of staff to Southern Oregon state Sen. Jeff Golden wants affordable housing and Medicare for all, major reforms to Oregon's lax campaign finance laws, and racial and climate justice. We like her call to take a hard look at the 350 tax breaks on the books in Oregon and appreciate her recognition that all the candidates in this race come from a place of privilege that is not shared among all the people they would serve.
We hope she, like all the candidates in this district, find a way to stay engaged in public policy. But our choice is an easy one. The Oregon Legislature desperately needs someone like Maxine Dexter right now, and we urge voters in District 33 to send her to Salem.
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