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Wehby rolls with hits, stays on course

GOP candidate says website flap, attacks distract worried voters


Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ALVARO FONTAN - GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby says she would alter - not repeal - the federal Obamacare law to reduce the costs and regulation on businesses. She also blamed much of the states economic doldrums on policies supported by her opponent, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.Even though Monica Wehby was exposed to politics when she was president of the Oregon Medical Association, she has felt it full force as the first woman Republicans have nominated for the U.S. Senate in Oregon.

It’s been a knock-down, drag-out campaign between her and Democrat Jeff Merkley, who himself unseated Republican Gordon Smith six years ago.

“I have to say this has been totally different from medicine,” she said during an Oct. 16 editorial board meeting of the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group. “Medicine is fact-based in reality. Those are sorely missing in this political game, which is about distortion and innuendo.”

Wehby is a physician and the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. She and Merkley have appeared jointly only once, on Medford television station KOBI. Each candidate has tried to portray the other as a partisan extremist who is out of step with Oregon.

“Merkley is on the wrong side of all the political issues,” Wehby says.

Merkley says Wehby has drawn her policy stances — sometimes word for word — largely from national Republican sources and Kansas industrialists Charles and David Koch, whose independent political committee bankrolled TV ads aimed at Merkley.

Merkley has maintained leads in independent polls.

Wehby also drew help from the GOP’s most recent presidential nominees. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 nominee, campaigned with her Oct. 2. Mitt Romney gave her $2,500 from his 2012 presidential campaign fund.

Wehby, according to several stories on the BuzzFeed news website, drew her health care policy statements from Republican political consultant Karl Rove and her leading GOP primary opponent, and her economic statements from other Republicans.

She blames her now-departed campaign manager, who disputes her.

“My mistake was not in paying as much attention to what went on the (campaign) website as I should have,” she says. “I have to take the hit, but I had no reason to think why I had to check it.”

She acknowledges that Rove compiled a list of health-care proposals widely supported by other Republican candidates. The statements she posted from her May 20 primary opponent were done more recently.

Divided on health care

Wehby seeks to contrast herself with Merkley largely based on Republican opposition to what Wehby says is excessive regulation by the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama.

Wehby says there are good points to the national health-care overhaul supported by Merkley and signed by Obama in 2010, known as the Affordable Care Act.

Among them are an extension of dependents’ coverage on their parents’ plan until age 26, an end to insurance companies denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions, and the removal of caps on lifetime benefits for some conditions, although Wehby prefers to put such patients in high-risk pools.

“The goal is good: We want everybody to have affordable, high-quality care,” Wehby says.

But she questions the law’s cost of extending such care to 20 million of people who had been without it, particularly to businesses.

Among the changes she advocates are redefining full-time workers eligible for coverage — “full time” is now 30 hours per week — requiring businesses to provide coverage in 2015 if they have more than 50 employees, and setting standards for “essential benefits” to be offered under insurance plans.

She also says Congress should limit liability of medical professionals.

Other disagreements

Wehby also decries the 2010 law that expands regulation of banks and financial markets — a law Merkley had a hand in — and efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to expand air quality regulation.

Though no expert in financial regulation, she says that under the Dodd-Frank law, “you can be sure that whenever it turns into a big monstrosity, that’s when all the loopholes will be there.”

EPA is writing rules to restrict greenhouse gases, and the Supreme Court upheld its legal authority to do so in 2006, before Obama was president. Industries have challenged the rules.

“I do think we have to protect the environment, and the Clean Air Act has been effective at doing that,” Wehby says. “But I do think as far as extensions of some of the regulations go, it’s not the time to make things worse for our economy.”

On foreign policy, Wehby was not as sharp as McCain in criticizing Merkley for support of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“But I think we have created a leadership vacuum over there, and when there is a vacuum, it is going to be filled by somebody less benevolent than us,” she says.

Like Merkley, she favors U.S. efforts against Islamic State extremists. But like McCain, who favors a more aggressive approach, she also says Congress should debate those efforts more fully.

Candidacy rationale

Wehby says she intended to demonstrate she is a different kind of Republican, a throwback to three decades ago when Republicans held most statewide offices in Oregon.

“A lot of times, people won’t even consider you as a candidate based on (political) litmus tests,” she says. “I had hoped that getting some of the social issues off the table would help.”

Among them are abortion — Wehby does not promote it, but supports abortion rights, though not guaranteed coverage for contraceptives — and marriage by same-sex couples.

One of her TV ads features one of the plaintiffs — a Republican — in one of the federal lawsuits that led to a judge overturning Oregon’s decade-old ban on same-sex marriages. The other three participating couples, along with state and national gay-rights organizations, backed Merkley.

While Wehby won a majority in a five-way Republican primary May 20, a recent poll indicates she has united a bare majority of Republicans behind her candidacy. In contrast, 72 percent of Democrats back Merkley.

Wehby says she has been asked repeatedly why she would give up her medical career for a stint in politics.

She says she asked that of Tom Coburn, a doctor and an Oklahoma Republican who is leaving the Senate at the end of this year. Wehby says she admires Coburn but does not share his conservative views on social issues.

“He said, ‘Monica, you are not walking away from your babies; you are going to be taking care of all the babies and making a bigger difference. You are doing it for the right reasons,’ ” she says.

“I tell you what, though: I understand why people don’t.”

pwong@pamplinmedia.com

twitter.com/capitolwong

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