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Medical experience helps Bud Pierce form opinions, reach voters

Salem doctor spends $1M of his own cash on race for governor

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bud Pierce recently spoke about why he is running for Oregon Governor before the Portland Tribune editorial board.Republican gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce made his fortune on his medical practice, and that practice also has helped to shape his views on many of the issues he is campaigning on in his bid to become Oregon’s governor.

“You have to ... always challenge yourself as a physician: Am I doing the right thing, or has science changed, or is there new information that has changed my attitude and idea about what I am doing?” Pierce said.

This approach and his experience as an oncologist in Salem have given him nuanced and complex opinions on some of Oregon’s most controversial social issues, from death with dignity to legalized marijuana.

The former president of the Oregon Medical Association is perhaps best known for his role in negotiating a compromise on tort reform in 2012, a contentious issue for both physicians and trial attorneys. But his greatest challenge in the May 17 primary election where he faces off with Lake Oswego businessman Allen Alley and three others is gaining name recognition from voters.

So far, Pierce and his wife, Selma, have spent more than $1 million of their own money to finance his campaign, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Death with dignity

Most of the physicians at Hematology/Oncology of Salem, where Pierce is a senior partner, were “staunch supporters” of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, the first law in the nation to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives.

Pierce twice voted against the proposal, first in November 1994 when voters approved the initiative to protect physicians from prosecution when they prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients.

In 1997, Pierce voted to repeal the law, but voters overwhelmingly defeated the repeal with 60 percent of the vote.

“I was afraid that people would be encouraged to leave because they were too expensive and troublesome to be cared for, because when you have a fatal illness, you lose your economic value to society,” Pierce said.

Nearly 20 years later, Pierce has acknowledged that his fears about physician-assisted death never materialized. He said he still objects to the practice on moral grounds, but he recognizes that many people who use it do so to avoid pain or exert control over the end of their lives.

“I haven’t seen one case where it’s misused, and I am aware of the cases in our office where it’s used,” Pierce said.

The Southern California native said he has never dispensed a prescription for a life-ending drug, though some of his patients have chosen that option. He refers these patients to another physician at his practice to prescribe the drug.

Medical marijuana

Pierce’s experience as an oncologist also has informed his opinion on legalized marijuana. He has written scores of authorizations for his patients to use the drug to cope with pain, nausea and other symptoms.

“It does help them feel better, and I have decided as a doctor, I am going to be an advocate for my patients,” Pierce said.

As such, he said he wants to see more medical research on the drug and supports a recommendation in January by the Oregon Cannabis Research Task Force to start a state-funded marijuana research institute. He said he also would favor using some of the tax revenue from recreational marijuana legalization to pay for the research.

Business experience

As a small business owner operating a medical practice, Pierce said he has experienced how government regulations have hindered business.

As governor, he said, he would like to repeal laws that he believes hinders businesses such as the gas tax and the low carbon fuels mandate Gov. Kate Brown signed into law.

Meanwhile, he supports strengthening another Brown creation, the state’s Office of Small Business Assistance, and increasing targeted investments in education.

Pierce’s leadership in medical circles inspired him to enter politics.

In 2012, Gov. John Kitzhaber sought out Pierce, as head of the Oregon Medical Association, to negotiate a compromise with trial attorneys on tort reform.

“The hardest sale I ever did in my life was to take liability reform, which was not any protection against lawsuits, and have 80 people in the room and convince them that what we had on the table ... was the way we needed to go,” Pierce said.

“At the end, we won by a couple of votes,” he said.

Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014 against Jeff Merkley, said she opposed the compromise and wanted more protection for physicians.

“I think he did a nice job of trying to find a solution that was beneficial to everybody,” Wehby said. “Did we get everything we wanted? No, but that’s negotiation. The other side didn’t either.”

Wehby, who has declined to endorse a candidate in the primary, said she thinks Pierce would be a good choice for governor because of his leadership skills and his experience running a small business.

“He has a lot of respect for others’ opinions, and I think a lot of that comes from being a physician,” Wehby said. “You spend a lot of time listening to people and trying to come up with a diagnosis.”