OregonLive - August 28, 2015
Monica Wehby's much-discussed return to Oregon politics this year might be a little more involved than she initially indicated.
The former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate is actively considering a run for governor next year, a spokesman for Wehby's political action committee has confirmed, and she "is listening to all Oregon voices" who, she says, are "tired" of "long-standing corruption" in the wake of a criminal influence-peddling investigation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber.
"Dr. Monica Wehby is being courted by both Republican and Democrat leaders at the state and national levels about the possibility of her serving as Oregon's next governor," Christian Bourge, an adviser to Wehby, told The Oregonian/OregonLive in a statement.
"These highly encouraging voices have identified a path to victory fueled by findings from the ongoing FBI investigation into John Kitzhaber's corrupt government in which Kate Brown both served a pivotal role and continues to oversee in Salem under the cloud of a Portland grand jury. Dr. Wehby is listening to all Oregon voices, especially those tired of being represented by the long-standing corruption which has a stranglehold on the state."
It's unclear when Wehby, who has returned to her practice as a pediatric neurosurgeon, will decide.
But jumping into a high-profile race against appointed Democratic Gov. Kate Brown — widely expected to run in 2016 for the second two years of John Kitzhaber's term — would mark a significant trajectory change after she said her new political committee would be devoted to helping like-minded candidates and promoting ballot measures.
It would also mark a major attempt at a political rebirth following her difficult 2014 bid against U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.
Wehby won the Republican primary in May after earning national attention and support as a woman with moderate social views and a background in health care.
But her campaign crumbled almost as quickly under the weight of plagiarism accusations and revelations about police reports that included allegations of stalking. She called the reports sensationalized and an attack on her privacy, but she struggled to regain momentum and fell to Merkley last November by nearly 19 percentage points.
Clearly stung by that loss, Wehby seems to be taking a roundabout route back to the ballot.
A day after she lost to Merkley, after corruption allegations had begun swirling around Kitzhaber, she phoned the ex-governor to see about joining his administration as head of the embattled Oregon Health Authority, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported last November.
Then, when she announced her committee's creation in May, she said she had no plans to put her own name before voters again. Instead, she traded on her name recognition to take shots at Democrats such as then-House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, D-Eugene.
But the committee, dubbed MonicaPAC, has quietly raised significant money — $183,647 — serving as a reminder that Wehby's political brand remains intriguing in an Oregon Republican Party that's struggled to find candidates who can win statewide races.
Freshman Rep. Knute Buehler, a Bend Republican who positioned himself as a moderate, announced Tuesday that he wouldn't run against Brown after raising the idea in July.
Leading Republicans have floated the name of Allen Alley, a former gubernatorial candidate and party leader. But only Salem oncologist Bud Pierce, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars from his personal fortune, has declared himself all in.
Wehby's entrance would shake up a race that seems stacked in favor of Brown — who did well in a private poll this year and earned credit from legislative Republicans as an upgrade from Kitzhaber.
"The governor is very focused on running the state," Brown's campaign consultant, Carol Butler, said when asked about Wehby's statement connecting Kitzhaber's troubles to Brown. "We're not paying much attention to Monica Wehby's political ambitions."
So far, those ambitions — whatever shape they take — haven't been cheap.
Although Wehby has raised more than $180,000 this year, a sizable portion, $103,400, has gone to her Washington, D.C.-based consultants, the Sonoran Policy Group. Other consultants have also received tens of thousands of dollars.
A little under half of the committee's contributions, $81,000, have come from fewer than 10 out-of-state donors.
Her committee, when it launched in May, announced that it would invest in an investigative team that would research political claims and "debunk them before they can be used to undermine freedom."
MonicaPAC is also aiming to help Republicans take back the Oregon House in 2016, providing candidates with a new data managing tool to monitor their influence online.
Wehby hinted at her interest in running again in late July. She answered a column in the Salem Statesman Journal that criticized her for using the word "honey" during her 2014 campaign.
"Honey, know I've got the thick skin you recommend candidates have," she wrote. "That's why I'm taking the lessons I learned on the campaign trail and bringing change to Oregon."
In early July, Wehby called Greg Leo, a recent executive director of the Oregon Republican Party, to ask for advice.
"The questions we talked about were insightful and detailed and carefully considered," Leo said. "I think Monica learned a lot from her U.S. Senate run, and I think that will make a different candidate — a more experienced candidate — in this race."
He added: "Kate Brown is well known, and frankly, has a pretty high approval rating. Nobody says it's going to be an easy race, but a possible race? I think it might be."
Not all Republicans, of course, are eager to see Wehby run.
"The idea that she thinks she could have a viable political career in Oregon seems preposterous after what happened," said Jim Pasero, a Republican media strategist from Lake Oswego and occasional columnist for The Oregonian/OregonLive. "If she tries to run, I think it will make many, many people uncomfortable — including and especially the people that gave to her campaign. It was an embarrassment."