SALEM — In a move that leaves the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination wide open, Bend Republican Rep. Knute Buehler announced Tuesday he won’t run for governor in 2016.
Buehler had announced in July he was deciding whether to run again for the House or try his hand at statewide office for the second time.
Buehler said he’ll instead seek re-election as a Republican in a Democratic-led House district, and he paired his announcement with a call for money from donors to fend off what may be another contentious race in Bend.
“In the end, I realized I’m not ready — just yet — to leave my medical practice, patients, nonprofit boards and business in order to commit 100 percent of my time that running an energetic campaign for governor requires and deserves.”
Buehler emphasized his involvement outside the political realm as his reason to forgo a tough battle for higher office.
“I’ve only seen my public service as more of a journey than a particular destination,” Buehler said in an interview Tuesday. “That journey will take me where I can best serve the people of Oregon, and right now I think that’s in the Oregon House of Representatives.”
In addition to being an orthopedic surgeon, Buehler is a director of The Center: Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care & Research and another surgical center in Bend and president of Buehler Research and Design. He sits on the boards of the Ford Family Foundation, St. Charles Health System and Oregon State University Foundation.
Buehler also owns five commercial and three residential properties and is owner of a real estate company called Argos Properties, according to a review of documents outlining economic interests required by state law.
He gave his campaign account $10,000 on July 8, kicking off speculation over whether he’d run for governor, and reported several donations between then and now. He spent his freshman session working to pass a measure that allowed women to receive birth control from a pharmacy without needing to see a physician first.
Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, said Buehler’s name still isn’t recognizable statewide to contend with a likely run against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who has yet to announce a potential bid for re-election but is the likely Democratic candidate.
“I think he found out he didn’t have a chance,” Moore said. “What he’s got to do is (he’s) got to get high-profile bills, and those high-profile bills have got to be covered extensively by the media of the big markets.”
With Buehler out of the race, Salem doctor William “Bud” Pierce is the front-running Republican for governor. Pierce told The Bulletin this month he would focus on education reform, improving transportation infrastructure and “government agency reform to make our government more effective.”
Pierce said he didn’t support Buehler’s birth control bill.
“Most pharmacists are woefully undertrained to optimally prescribe the best contraceptive for an individual patient,” Pierce said in mid-August. “Emergency contraceptives dispensed by a pharmacist without (physician) oversight remains appropriate.”
Lake Oswego businessman and Republican Allen Alley told The Bulletin on Monday he was “seriously considering” a gubernatorial bid, but he still hasn’t made up his mind.
“They can’t win unless they get a moderate. It’s that simple,” Moore said.
House District 54
In his statement, Buehler said he felt he would be targeted in the next election despite his incumbency. Bend’s House District 54 is one of few in Oregon considered a “swing district,” or one that remains competitive past a primary election.
Buehler won his House seat over Democratic challenger and businessman Craig Wilhelm by 17 percentage points last year despite focus from the House Democratic campaign arm, which paid for about half Wilhelm’s campaign in the pursuit of the party’s only legislative seat east of the Cascades.
Running for House just two years after losing in a 2012 race against now Gov. Kate Brown for secretary of state, Buehler received big-ticket donations and spent nearly $777,000 last year — three times more than Wilhelm and an amount that was among the most raised by any legislative candidate in the state during the 2014 election.
No Democrat has announced a run for the seat. Wilhelm said in an email Tuesday he’d “not yet decided if running for HD54 next year is the best way for me to serve this community.”
Democrats in the district outnumber Republicans by 2,452, according to voter registration statistics through July, but the number of unaffiliated voters and Independent Party members — a combined 13,408 — is enough to cover the spread.
Thirty-three percent of all voters in the district either don’t belong to a party or are members of the Independent Party of Oregon, a voting bloc Buehler has worked to appeal to.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347, firstname.lastname@example.org