The two leading candidates for governor face very different decisions on Measure 101, the partial repeal of a Medicaid funding measure on the Jan. 23 ballot.

Neither incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, or her probable opponent, state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), has said a lot about the Measure 101 thus far.

Gov. Kate Brown
Gov. Kate Brown

Brown signed HB 2391 into law on July 3. Her campaign spokesman, Thomas Wheatley, says Brown remains a strong backer.

"The governor supports the measure and encourages a 'yes' vote," Wheatley says.

Brown's endorsement of a measure that has overwhelming Democratic support and would preserve the budget lawmakers wrote last year is an easy decision.

For Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, however, the Jan. 23 ballot presents a political dilemma.

Measure 101 was placed on the ballot by three of Buehler's fellow House Republicans, Reps. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg) and Sal Esquivel (R-Medford). And Buehler voted against the underlying legislation, HB 2391.

But virtually every medical organization in Oregon supports the measure: the Oregon Medical Association (which represents doctors); the Oregon Nurses Association; the Oregon Health Care Association (nursing homes); and the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems; and, many others are putting their names and their money behind the measure.

All of those groups and the individuals associated with them represent a large source of potential support for Buehler as he tries to unseat Brown, whose party enjoys a large voter registration advantage over Republicans.

Yet when WW asked Buehler's where he stood on 101, his answer was unequivocal.

"As a physician and lawmaker I strongly support the Oregon Health Plan," Buehler said in a statement. "But during the past 3 years I've grown increasingly concerned, alarmed even, by the failed leadership, mismanagement and cavalier attitude by state health care managers and Governor Brown toward the funding and delivery of Oregon's Medicaid program. I voted against the new tax on health insurance during the 2017 legislative session and I'll be voting 'no' to repeal the $330 million in health care taxes in January — Ballot Measure 101."

Buehler says HB 2391 failed to address the rising cost of health care and is unfair, since not everybody pays it. He also faulted the funding package for being a temporary fix.

"Measure 101 does not provide a sustainable solution to funding Medicaid since it will expire in two years," Buehler said. "I am interested in finding real solutions to providing healthcare to vulnerable people in Oregon, not short term, band aid solutions."

Voting against a tax measure can be helpful in a Republican primary, but it's unlikely Buehler will face serious competition on May 15.

It's after that, when Buehler tries to woo the third of Oregonians who belong to neither major party and tries to convince Democrats to defect from Brown that his position on Measure 101 could come back to haunt him.

Ballots are due by Jan. 23.