Ben Westlund, in his own words

Westlund_1The newspaper in Sisters, Oregon - the Nugget - has a great profile of Senator Ben Westlund - who started 2006 as a Republican, spent some time as an independent, and ended the year as a Democrat. Here's a few choice quotes from the article:

"I left the Republican Party because I grew weary of the intolerance of many ... certainly not all... Republicans to our fellow human beings," Westlund says. "A lot of people call that 'values.' But there are lots of people (in the state) who have lots of different 'values.'

"It became, 'You have to have MY values; you have to worship from the same pew.' That was inconsistent for me, for a party that was founded on individual rights and liberties," Westlund says. ...

"It was inconsistent to me that they opposed an individual's right to make choices. If you support gun rights and property rights, you have to support other individual rights as well. If you support some, you must support them all," he said.

"If I am gay or I want to take my own life when I am in great pain and have no hope and am draining my children's bank account at $10,000 per day, I should have that right." ...

"For some time I had been called a 'RINO,' a Republican In Name Only. And in some regards that was true," he acknowledged.

When he ran for governor, he did so from the "middle." "I became an Independent," he says. "It was legitimate. I was and still am concerned with extreme partisan politics where the rules of engagement are to ONLY make yourself look good or your opponent look bad." ...

"Like it or not, this state has a two-party system. History is littered with examples of Independent campaigns that flared and died. To be effective, and best represent the district, (I had to affiliate with a major party)."

The choice to switch to the Democratic party was finally made when he was looking at what each party stood for.

"I was sitting in my living room with Libby reading the platforms of the Republicans and Democrats, and I came across one sentence. 'The Democratic Party of Oregon believes access to effective, affordable healthcare is a fundamental human right," Westlund recites from memory.

That was his belief as well. "I closed the book right there."


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    I know a lot of people find reasons to admire Westlund. But I'd just like to point out that the strains of intolerance in the Republican Party -- even just the Oregon Republican Party -- he's says made him unhappy with the Party aren't exactly new. The religious conservatives took over the Party apparatus a long time ago.

    I'll be happy to support Westlund's trek to the light, but I would prefer to know what the heck took him so long. And if there's an option between supporting someone who switched to being a Democrat more than a quarter century after religious conservatives took over the Republicans with the ascension of Ronald Reagan and someone who's believed in Democratic values for more than a couple of years, I'm going to pick the latter,

  • Robin Ozretich (unverified)

    Will Ben Westlund be our Jim Webb (another former Republican)? I'd like to see him take on Gordon Smith.

    He's my favorite for the Senate nomination at this point, now that my previous fav Peter DeFazio has taken his name out of the running. Pluse, I think Oregon voters would prefer to have at least one Senator who is not from Portland.

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    Westlund attended Governor Kulongoski's Inaugural dinner last night in Medford. He sat with Senator Alan Bates. Bates and Westlund, co-chairmen of the Senate Health Care Reform Committee, both predicted passage of the governor's Children's Health Care Initiative and both predicted that it's just the first move. The Medford Mail Tribune reported both men expect the next move in the 2008 legislative session will be universal health care coverage for all Oregonians.

    Of course Brad Hicks, Executive Director of the Medford-Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said in the Tribune article, of children's health-care coverage, "Who's going to pay for it?"

    Looks like Bates and Westlund have their work cut out for them because Hicks also stated, "I don't know too many people in the business community that support universal coverage."

  • Small Business Owner (unverified)

    Sounds like Brad Hicks doesn't know too many people in the business community at all, then. Maybe he should get out of Medford more often.

    Count me as a business owner in favor of universal coverage.

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    What took Ben so long? I have to place myself in Ben's shoes. I was born and raised a Democrat. My Father passed away when I was 13 years old, but I remember him telling me about Roosevelt and Truman. He always talked about Stevenson and told me about JFK way before he came on the national seen. For me to register as anything but a Democrat is beyond my imagination. I admire Ben for his courage and commitment to a better Oregon.

  • eyeonoregon (unverified)

    See the whole article on Westlund at

  • Chris McMullen (unverified)

    "..The Democratic Party of Oregon believes access to effective, affordable healthcare is a fundamental human right.."

    Sounds like Westlund went from being a RHINO Republican to being a Socialist to me.

    Newsflash for ya Ben, in the United States, humans are born with certain inalienable rights, they are not provided by the government.

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    Whew! We can tell LBJ's ghost there was no need for the Civil Rights Act; blacks were BORN with rights in this country!

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)


    You should read the entire Declaration of Independence. First of all, they're unalienable rights. Second, they're secured by government.

    The relevant section reads: ...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.

    You should also check your definition of socialism. I think you'll find Ben Westlund is far from a socialist.

  • Chris McMullen (unverified)

    You're picking nits, Bert:

    First, unalienable and inalienable both mean the same thing.

    Second, government's role is to defend (secure) our rights, not provide them. There's a huge difference.

    How can health care be a right? Is food a right? Clothing? Shelter?

    Read this for some real insight on government's role in health care.

  • Former Salem Staffer (unverified)

    Ben Westlund is a good man, and he totally has my vote if he runs against Gordon Smith. As of this point, it doesn't look like anyone else is nearly as viable of a candidate... The last time I saw Westlund was at a Greg Walden event in Medford. He was there talking to Rep. Richardson and schmoozing with the likes of Ron Saxton. This was back in October, a few days before Westlund endorsed Kulongoski. Westlund's main appeal is definitely with independents and moderates of both parties. I do, however, think that his conversion is genuine. I remember discussing with him in the 05 session his increasing disdain for the Oregon Republican Party's stance on social issues. Westlund would have had my full support in his gubernatorial bid, but we all know how that ended...

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    I've never really counted myself as a fan of Westlund, but I found myself agreeing with him on this:

    "It was inconsistent to me that they opposed an individual's right to make choices. If you support gun rights and property rights, you have to support other individual rights as well. If you support some, you must support them all," he said."

    If he ran against Smith, I'd strongly consider voting for him.

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    Chris said "secure" means "defend." That's fairly close, although I might say "protect", as Webster's does in a convenient context:

    --to put beyond hazard of losing or of not receiving : GUARANTEE <secure the="" blessings="" of="" liberty="" --="" u.s.="" constitution="">

    How shall government prevent Americans from losing health care?--or more appropriately, why is providing it in dire circumstances not a just fulfillment of their charge to "secure" it?

    and... "How can health care be a right? Is food a right? Clothing? Shelter?"

    How can life and liberty be a right? Natural law indicated to Jefferson that man naturally yearns to live and be free as a part of his very being. Are you suggesting that man does not yearn to be healthy in the same manner? Or be free from hunger and thirst?

    You might have me on clothes, although going naked isn't good for your health in adverse conditions.

    The easiest way to answer whether something is a fundamental right is to ask whether government is allowed to force its citizens to go without it. Can government legally starve a man or make him sick? (You might say that the death penalty is a legal way to make someone "sick," but insofar as killing your own citizens strikes most nations as cruel and unusual punishment, I'd say we've been skating on that one for a while).

    All of which--guess what--is immaterial! Your claim of socialism would only apply if government-based provision of health care were the only option. As Wyden's plan makes clear, securing health insurance doesn't have to mean that government agents give you health care.

  • Carl M (unverified)


    Longtime viewer, first time writer.

    How about having children? Irrespective of the courts ruling that procreation is a fundemental right, is it? Should not reasonable societies be able to legislate against biological defectives (terrible autoimmune, Downs Syndrome, mental impairments) or severe financial defectives who would be bringing forth beings that they themselves have no capacity to support, and would thus FORCE, in a positive/proactive manner, larger society to take on the burdens owing to the misallocation of risk by the limited number?

    Is the sterilization of physiological defectives and economic inferiors/ social miscreants (necessarily a sliding scale) a legitimate object of society? If only to minimize the burden imposed on the many, by the incapable or irresponsible few?

    I am a liberal social service worker. My father might call that redundant.

    I'm beginning to think that the above must be answered in the affirmative.

  • Christine Chin Ryan (unverified)

    Speaking as Chair of the Oregon Small Business for Responsible Leadership (OSBRL), I want to take this opportunity to commend Senator Ben Westlund on his coming over to the Democratic Party and join him in supporting the crucial belief that “access to effective, affordable healthcare is a fundamental human right”. OSBRL is a state wide non-partisan, volunteer, progressive advocate of small business concerns. The Senate Commission on Healthcare Access and Affordability is a remarkable forum Co-Chaired by Senators Westlund and Bates, who’s deep concern for universal healthcare coverage and their relentless leadership, I believe will bring us to achieving this goal. As Chair of Governor’s Small Business Council, I have had the honor of sharing with Senators Westlund and Bates the small business concerns and issues as they are related to the universal healthcare dilemma. In the course of my discussions with Senators Westlund and Bates, I became deeply aware of the keen and sincere concern that Senators have about providing affordable healthcare for every Oregonian.

    Christine Chin Ryan

  • BOHICA (unverified)
    CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Article. VI. Clause 2: This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948 Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    The US is a signatory the the above, therefore it is "The Supreme Law of the Land."

    Just sayin'.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)


    I don't think it's nitpicking to object to someone misquoting the Declaration of Independence and, what's worse, taking it out of context in order to make the (dubious) claim that access to healthcare can not be considered a right.

    I do agree that governments role is to protect rights, not grant them. Rights are moral objects, not legal ones. Just because you have a right doesn't mean it will be respected by those around you. Government steps in to ensure your rights are respected -- or at least our founding fathers saw that as one of it's primary jobs.

    Democrats believe that access to healthcare is one of the rights you're born with. It may not be a right that's currently protected by our government, but for years the right for a black man and a white woman to marry wasn't protected either. That didn't mean the right didn't exist; it meant government failed to fullfil it's duty.

    Regarding your healthcare link I think I can say, without fear of sane disagreement, that it's bunk. I'm not surprised that a Libertarian think tank would study medical costs and discover (surprise!) that Libertarianism would solve the problem. It's not even really a study; it's an ideological article devoid of meaningful data, method, or review. Good advertising, perhaps, but bad social science.

    If you're interested in studies by non-biased people and groups on why America has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, contact me off-line. I was on a committee that studied this issue a couple of years ago and I have piles of relevant (and very boring) reports and studies.

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    How can health care be a right?

    Like Kitzhaber, I wouldn't focus on health care, but rather simply health. I'd put health down as part of the right to "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness".

    Health is merely a way of achieving life, or put another way, avoiding death.

  • East Coast crazy (unverified)

    I am so happy that someone read the Democratic Party of Oregon's Platform!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who here has read the Republican's it is freaken insane........ and they revised it from 2004 wheen it was even crazier.

  • East Coast crazy (unverified)

    I am so happy that someone read the Democratic Party of Oregon's Platform!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who here has read the Republican's it is freaken insane........ and they revised it from 2004 wheen it was even crazier.

  • politicallogic (unverified)

    I am heartened to read Westlund has swung all the way over to the light, and I give him more than the benefit of the doubt his is a values-based conversion.

    One thing I would like to know, though, is specifically what approach he advocates in guaranteeing the right (and I believe it is a human and civil right) of every Oregonian, and every American, to effective, affordable health care? A quick scan of the entire article does not seem to reveal any specifics. The plans proposed thus far by Democrats do not rise to the same level in defense of that right.

    In response to Brad Hicks' comment, I would just say that apparently Wal-Mart managment, as does any employer that does not provide affordable health care insurance to their employees, in practice demonstrates that they are in favor of some kind of universal coverage. This means that In the past, a large percentage of Wal-Mart employees across the country have had to rely on some form of "universal" public-subsidy or health-care provider subsidy. They have made claims they are changing that practice, but I haven't heard or read a lot about what this has actually meant on the ground except for $4.00 prescriptions for generic drugs. The obvious point, though, is that you have to get to see a doctor before you have a prescription to fill for $4.00 at Wal-Mart.

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    Ben Westlund, almost exactly two years ago (8 January 2005):

    To The Troops and Caring For Troops: Right up front. . . . . let me just say I love you guys and wish I were speaking these words to you in person. BJ, Taylor and I would like nothing better than to spend the morning packing care boxes with all of you as we have proudly done before. But the truth is we’re doing something I wish each and every one of you and your loved ones in Iraq could be doing. . attending a long-scheduled family football outing. . . yes, we’re watching the Seattle Seahawks beat up the St. Louis “Bad guy” Rams. I don’t say that to heighten your pain of separation from your loved one. . . but to underscore what they’re fighting for . . . it’s our freedoms: moments at the movies, school plays, our right to vote, and yes Saturday football . . . it’s our way of life. They are protecting our very existence. What you are doing is so important. . . sending a little bit of home to our troops in Iraq. I can’t tell you how inspired I am by each of you. Volunteering a few hours of your day will mean so much to each member of G Troop . . . these packages will lift their spirits and let them know how much we care. Thank you and carry on!! Ben

    I'm not about to vote for anyone in the Democratic primary who was gullible enough to fall for the tissue of lies that got the US into the Iraq war. I don't think we need to replace someone like Gordon Smith with someone else who would make the same mistake -- one that none of the Democratic members of the Oregon Congressional delegation made -- of green-lighting a similar military operation or other misadventure, no matter what their stand on health care, because so long as those kinds of wasteful mistakes are made, there's not going to be enough money left to fund any kind of comprehensive plan for anything.

    Have any of the people impressed by Westlund bothered to ask him about his stand on Iraq? Or why anyone should trust him on that type of issue any more than you'd trust, say, Gordon Smith?

  • Sam (unverified)

    Ben Westlund...???

    This guy is as genuine as a wooden nickle. He sways with wherever the political winds take him. He was a boot-licking Republican when they were in power and now that the horizon is blue he's tacked and is sailing that way. Ask around the Capitol, off the record about two things: 1) How does he treat women? 2) Does he keep his word? The answers will be deeply disturbing

  • Unfounded Claim Against Sam! (unverified)

    Oh, Sam...

    The day after Westlund got into the race for gov, some anonymous commenter on BO (you?) tried to smear Westlund by making up an imaginary story about a sexual harassment claim. Obviously, you didn't read into the denouement of that little episode, where it was found to be an out-of-context fabrication.

    As for a politician who keeps his word... I'm guessing you never compared Kulongoski's 2002 campaign speeches with his 2003-2005 record... you voted for Kulo though, didn't you?

    It's really easy to zip by and make unfounded claims about someone... if you've got a problem with Westlund, let's hear some evidence or a source.

    (Incidentally, I heard that Sam kills kittens for fun and sells their pelts to Wal-Mart. Ask around...)

  • Val (unverified)

    I am very happy to welcome Ben Westland into our Party, his long time commitment to fight for affordable heath care, renewable energy and civil liberties hasn't changed. His willingness to work with people regardless of party label hasn't changed. What has changed, and this has been happening for a long time but on a much larger scale over the past 6 years, is the Republican Party. The Democratic Party is the party most represents Ben's values and I say welcome to him and anyone else that wants to join our team provided that they have read our platform and understand that we didn't get into the majority by promising to become the Republican Lite party.

    Although there are areas of policy where Ben Westland and I may disagree, he is strongly committed to fighting for my core values and beyond that I think he is a stand up guy.

    In terms of Westland vs Smith, I think Ben would have a great chance of winning and would represent Oregon well.


  • Dead Women Tell No Tales (unverified)

    Ben is your problem now, along with all his baggage. Praise him for his courage. Laud him for his convictions. But remember his actions. Now that Benny is a Democrat, how long do you think the Republicans that hid his little secrets for years will be willing to keep quiet. Remember folks, where there is smoke, there is fire. His little indiscretion with the good representative Boone is not the only incident. His neighbor and friend, the former speaker Lundquist, swept another under the rug...and it was difficult, considering the victim was Lundquist's own staffer.

    But that was when he was a republican. I am sure he is all better now that he's all True Blue.

  • lin qiao (unverified)

    Can't help but think of that line about "no good deed goes unpunished".

    I wonder a couple of things about party-switching more generally:

    1) Why is it so offensive to some people? Is this a reflection of ideological rigidity among Dems as much as among Repubs? 2) Is Westlund's action unique or something we are seeing more generally in the US? And are such moves purely opportunistic? Surely everyone reading this blog recalls the (mostly Southern) Democrats who switched to the GOP after the 1994 elections.

  • LT (unverified)

    It may have been 1991 session or around that time that a state rep. joined the GOP caucus and another got angry and left the GOP caucus within a period of weeks.

  • Whack-a-Mole (unverified)

    With trolls like "Sam" and "Dead Women" swinging by hurling unfounded claims, it's not hard to understand.

    Honestly, it's like Whack-a-Mole in here, but every time a mole pops up, another sordid lie.

  • Dead Women (unverified)

    So I'm a troll because I haven't done your homework for you? Do it yourself. You want to kiss Westlund's my guest. But don't get all weepy when the political winds blow the other way and he gets cozy with whoever has the power of the moment.

    Oh, and since I'm now labeled as a troll, let me take a moment to opine on the lovely policy of donating money everytime someone offers an alternative viewpoint and gets themselves labeled as a troll:

    I think it's a wonderful idea, in principle. I would hate to be interrupted while I masturbate, too, so I completely understand.

  • Sleepy Follow (unverified)

    Is it just me, or do Westlund's eyes look crossed? Not Jerry Lewis crossed, but just kinda lazy.

    I'm no opthalmologist, but I have to think there is a way to fix it with glasses, or exercise, or something.

  • Wrassle Tarpin (unverified)

    When Ben Westlund switched from the Republicans to the Democrats the average IQ of both parties dropped.

  • dj (unverified)

    Yeah, yeah, Ben is a good man and all. But when it comes time to vote on a water issue or the environment, don't expect anything progressive or green. He'll vote with the party he just left - or he'll do what he's done before- horse trade his vote, even if the issue he's trading on is a sure loser. Bet you a dollar.

  • Ron (unverified)

    I started my adult life as a Republican, and switched to become a Democrat in 1964.
    I admire Ben Westlund. Should he run, I will be supporting him over Gordon Smith without a moment's hesitation. I am sure the Republicans will find plenty of mud to sling. They always do. The real question is whether the Democrat establisment will feel they must have an opponent in the primary. I sincerely hope not, because I don't see any other Democrats (save possibly Blumenauer and DeFazio who won't run)who could come as close to Smith as Westlund would, maybe even win.

  • Bleagh (unverified)

    DJ -- I'll take that dollar bet. Let's not forget Westlund carried PURS on the House floor when it was created, sides with enviros on Measure 37 reform, Toxic Mixing Zones, marine reserves, the solar tax credit, biofuel investment, a renewable portfolio standard, etc, etc.

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