Senate District 10 candidate Deb Patterson. (Courtesy/Deb Patterson)

Deb Patterson has a central goal if she becomes a state senator: deliver better healthcare for more people for less money.

After working for more than two decades in health advocacy and education, Patterson, a Democrat, is making her second attempt for the District 10 Senate seat. The district includes west Salem and areas outside the city, including Independence and Monmouth.

The seat was long held by Jackie Winters, a well-liked moderate Republican first elected to the seat in 2002 despite Democrats gaining a registration edge in the district. In 2018, Patterson received 46% of the vote against Winters, the best showing by a Democrat in years.

This year, Patterson faces Republican Denyc Boles, a former state representative who was appointed to the seat after Winters died in 2019. Also on the ballot for the seat is Taylor Rickey, running as a Libertarian.

RELATED COVERAGE: VOTE 2020: As Denyc Boles runs to keep her Senate seat, Republicans hope for a political counterweight

This year, the stakes are higher as both parties consider the seat is up for grabs. Democrats hold an 18-12 supermajority in the Senate, meaning Democrats can push through legislation without any Republican votes. Money has poured into the race from interests seeking to upset or maintain Oregon’s political balance. 

Patterson, 64, has worked in health advocacy and education, holding leadership positions in health care-oriented nonprofits. She said she’ll work with Republicans while pursuing legislation on affordable housing, health care, education and other issues.

During a League of Women Voters of Oregon forum, Patterson pointed to how she’s worked with stakeholders holding a variety of views during her career, which she said would make her effective in the Legislature. She also pointed to how she serves a church in rural Clackamas County as a congregational minister.

“I grew up on a farm,” she said. “I’m very comfortable bridging the urban-rural divide because I’ve lived it, and I continue to live it to this day.”

In her current run, she’s attracted endorsements and campaign donations from labor, environmental and other progressive groups, as well as local politicians.

“That Senate district is really an interesting one,” said Salem City Councilor Chris Hoy, who endorsed Patterson. “And I think Deb and her positions and values align more closely.”

As of September, Democrats had a 31% registration advantage in the district over the 30% held by Republicans. Unaffiliated voters make up 31%. 

Jim Moore, Pacific University professor and director of political outreach at the Tom McCall Center for Civic Engagement, said during a Salem City Club forum last month that the district’s demographic shift is notable.

But the large amounts of money the race has attracted means both sides have been able to run quality campaigns, he said. Moore added that the race will be settled by which party is more successful and getting out its voters.

Police accountability

Following a national outcry over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May, the Legislature reformed oversight and restrictions on law enforcement. Passed during a June special session, legislation restricted the use of tear gas, chokeholds and brought more transparency to police discipline records.

Patterson said she applauds the work of state Sen. James Manning, a Eugene Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform. Patterson said that Manning is taking the lead on making sure police and citizens are treated fairly.

However, when pressed for her thoughts on the reforms and what’s still needed, she demurred.

“It's not my area of expertise,” said Patterson.

Health care

Patterson said that before the pandemic struck, 96% of Oregonians had insurance. Now, that has dropped to 94%.

“And it’s not affordable for everyone,” she said.

In 2019, the Legislature created the Joint Task Force on Universal Health Care that’s expected to recommend expanding health care coverage. Patterson said she wants to support the work of the task force.

She also wants more school-based public health initiatives that she said will reduce long-term health care costs. Patterson pointed to former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative that encouraged healthier foods in schools and for kids to get more exercise.

“We know that when kids start young with healthy habits that they pay dividends for years to come,” said Patterson.

She said she would support changing Oregon laws to provide more transparency to how prescription drugs and medical procedures are priced. Patterson also called for the Oregon Health Plan to cover long-term care “because so many folks have to spend down to near destitution to be able to afford long-term care.”

Patterson said she’d also support expanding Project Independence, a program that provides home care workers to disabled and older adults so that they can stay in their homes. She said that expanding the program could save money by keeping people out of expensive institutional care settings.

Pandemic

Asked about Gov. Kate Brown’s standards for reopening schools amid the Covid pandemic, Patterson declined to comment on them specifically because they are being revised. But she praised the governor’s overall response to the pandemic.

“The governor and the Oregon Health Authority has done a great job with what's available here,” she said. “The federal response was terrible, and we had to play catch-up from the get-go.”

She said that the governor overcame difficulties early on with inadequate testing supplies and personal protective equipment. Patterson praised Brown for considering the health care and needs of individual counties in her response to the pandemic.

Housing

In recent years, the Legislature has addressed the state’s lack of affordable housing and problem with homelessness.

In 2019, the Legislature passed a landmark reform to allow apartments, duplexes and other denser forms of housing to be built in single-family neighborhoods. Last session, a package providing funding for shelters in cities, including Salem, was moving through the Legislature. But the bill stalled after Republicans walked out of the session in protest over climate change legislation.

Patterson said that the housing bill from the last session was “a drop in the bucket.”

“It’ll take all hands on deck,” said Patterson of the state’s housing crisis.

Patterson didn’t have specific proposals but said that neighborhood associations need to be included in conversations on the siting of multi-family units in their neighborhoods.

Economy

Patterson said figuring out how the state can help the economy is hard when it’s unclear how the pandemic will progress. The state could be in a second wave or seeing the virus retreat after a vaccine is developed, she said.

She pointed to a recent revenue forecast that presented an unexpectedly upbeat outlook for the state’s tax collections. With better-than-expected revenue, the state could be in a position to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, she said. But she didn’t have details on what that would look like.

Patterson said she’d like to work on legislation to expand apprenticeship programs and to make childcare more affordable but didn’t have specifics.

Climate change

Last session, Democrats attempted to pass a sweeping greenhouse gas reduction bill that was scuttled after Republicans walked out. The move denied both chambers a quorum, effectively killing the bill.

Patterson said that the proposal’s supporters made many compromises that were ultimately unsuccessful in attracting bipartisan support. She didn’t have specifics on what the Legislature should do to address climate change.

“Of course I’m for climate action,” she said. “But I’m running for an Oregon that leaves no one behind. So I'd like to see us invest in clean energy jobs that pay living wages.”

Campaign cash

Total raised: $725,508.41

Total spent: $691,738.56

Top donors:

Senate Democratic Leadership Fund. $199,234.05

Democratic Party of Oregon. $136,561.75

Citizen Action for Political Education (a union-backed political action committee). $106,420.

Miscellaneous cash contributions $100 and under. $94,758.25

Oregon Nurses Political Action Committee. $25,000.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled James Manning's name.