Jenni Neahring is hoping to make the transition from treating patients to helping solve the nation’s health care problems.
A Bend doctor who formerly specialized in kidney treatment and palliative care, Neahring recently jumped into the seven-way Democratic primary for the right to mount a longshot challenge against Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River.
Neahring has practiced medicine in Oregon since 1998 but, concerned about Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, she quit her job in April 2017 to look for a way to contribute to the national health care debate.
“For the last 10 or 15 years I’ve wanted to figure out how not just to practice medicine, but how to make a difference,” she said.
While she originally thought she might join a panel or advocacy organization, she was eventually convinced that running for Oregon Congressional District 2 was her best chance to create change.
Neahring, 51, said in an interview with the East Oregonian Thursday that people have asked her why she doesn’t start with a more local position, like a seat on the Bend City Council or the state legislature, but said taking federal office is the best way to influence health care policy.
“You either go big or you go home,” she said.
Neahring said she isn’t a single-issue candidate, but her focus on health expands to other areas. She said it’s difficult to lead a healthy life if the government doesn’t address other important issues like transportation and affordable housing.
A modern health care system needs to address issues like high drug prices and providing the type of care people need, Neahring said. While she isn’t locked into the idea of creating a single-payer health care system, she said it’s an idea that could be looked into along with a system that would require affordable prices for core health services.
Neahring said Congress could benefit by having a doctor who is familiar with the health care system and its shortcomings. If she is elected, she would join a small club.
Between the House of Representatives and Senate, only 14 physicians currently serve in Congress, or approximately 3 percent. Of those 14 members of Congress, only two are Democrats — Reps. Ami Bera and Raul Ruiz of California.
She said she’s ramped up her campaign from “zero to 60” in recent weeks, hiring a campaign manager and a communications director and looking to do some campaign fundraising.
Despite the district’s strong Republican lean, Neahring said her early campaign events have seen larger attendance than anticipated and many voters are becoming disenfranchised with Walden.
Regardless of some of these early indicators, Walden will be difficult to defeat in District 2, a nearly 70,000-square-mile district that encompasses all of Eastern Oregon and most of the central and southern parts of the state.
Originally elected in 1998, Walden often earns more than 70 percent of the vote and has amassed $3.1 million for his 2018 re-election campaign.
Although the race isn’t on the national radar, local Democrats are enthusiastic enough that seven candidates have already entered the race.
The field includes Neahring, Jim Crary of Ashland, the 2016 Democratic nominee, Eric Burnette of Hood River, Michael Byrne of Hood River, Raz Mason of The Dalles, Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebone, Steven Cody Reynolds of Portland and Tim White of Bend.
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