Bend Democrat eyeing Greg Walden challenge
SALEM — A Bend Democrat, who works as a physician in Salem and Portland, is weighing a bid to oust U.S. Rep. Greg Walden from the 2nd Congressional District seat.
If she announces next month, Jennifer "Jenni" Neahring, 51, would be one of several Democrats running campaigns to oust the 10-term Republican representative but only one of two women.
A newcomer to politics, Neahring said the high cost of health care — and Walden's efforts to repeal what she describes as the only gains the nation has made in improving access to care — spurred her to explore her potential to challenge him. She said she felt the only way she could change national health care policy would be to seek office.
She has toured the 2nd Congressional District and met with voters in Southern Oregon, Central Oregon and Eastern Oregon. She has received advice from Celinda Lake, a leading Democratic political strategist, and has met with former Gov. John Kitzhaber and U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer.
"I'm trying to see if I understand the problems and issues and can I serve this district, and I feel that I can," Neahring said in a phone interview with the Pamplin/EO Capital Bureau Tuesday.
Neahring moved to Bend from Salem about six years ago after a divorce. While living in Bend, she said, she has continued a medical practice as a kidney physician in both the capital city and Portland, often working every other week. She has had affiliations with both Salem Health Hospitals & Clinics and with Providence Connections palliative care consultation service.
"From the time that it was passed, I was happy to see we were making changes in the right direction in terms of the things that are really popular in the Affordable Care Act, like mandatory coverage for preexisting condition and expanding coverage for more people," Neahring said. "My concern when it passed was there wasn't enough teeth in things that needed to happen to make health care affordable. Health care is already too expensive, and we saw those costs continuing to rise."
Even so, repealing the law "didn't make any sense to me because the American public would be losing the few gains we had in starting to look at bringing down the cost of health care," she said.
"The frustration to me was that the whole discussion was about politics and Obama and trying to get rid of it, as opposed to talking about the problems with health care and trying to fix it."
The only woman who has filed for election to the seat (and is still in the race) is Jamie McLeod-Skinner, 50, of Terrebonne, a retired city manager and planner. She announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination July 5.
Rachel Scdoris-Salerno, a legally-blind dog sled racer from Bend, dropped out of the race in July, after announcing in May. She has endorsed McLeod-Skinner.
Candidates have until March 6 to file for the primary election. Others who have filed for the Democratic nomination are Michael Byrne of Parkdale (near Hood River), James "Jim" Crary, who lives near Ashland, and Tim S. White.
Walden has "led the charge in dismantling health care" and in supporting the tax bill and supported the Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal rules that prohibited internet providers from discriminating against certain websites, McLeod-Skinner said.
"He really seems to have turned away and forgotten where he comes from," she said. "He's really focused on campaign donors and not the needs of his district."
The Democratic Party of Oregon has amped up fundraising to support Democratic candidates who could defeat Walden. Criticism of his votes for bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act and give permanent tax breaks to have fueled their fervor.
Walden still has the constituent support and financial wherewithal to win reelection, said Spokesman Justin Discigil.
Voters in his district "have consistently and strongly supported Greg Walden as their voice in Congress because they know he is a powerful force standing up for our veterans, working across party lines to fix broken forest policy and helping hardworking taxpayers keep more of what they earn," Discigil said.
"Oregon has no stronger voice for the ranching, farming and small business way of life that dominates the east side of the state."
Prominent national Democrats such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also have emphasized the importance of more women winning elected office to combat discrimination in politics. Clinton spoke to a full crowd at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland Dec. 12 – the same night Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore, a former judge accused of initiating sex with underage girls, in a special election in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat.
"There's a feeling in the country that this is the time for women to stand up," Clinton said. "The lesson for me tonight is that we to have to contest everything. And I believe that if we do that in 2018 we can take back the House and the Senate."