In 2003, Westlund chaired the committee charged with saving the Oregon Health Plan from extinction. His concerns for healthcare turned personal when Ben was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two weeks later he received statewide attention when he returned to the floor of the legislature and called for legislators to “stop being mere politicians who think only of the next election, and start being statesmen who think only of the next generation.”
In the final days of the 2003 session Ben Westlund was appointed to the Senate to finish the term of Bev Clarno. In the 2004 election, in addition to receiving the Republican nomination, Westlund won the Democratic nomination with over a thousand write-in votes and received over 80% of the final votes cast.
Believing that Oregon’s tax structure causes financial instability, Westlund served as vice-chair on a 2003 interim joint committee to examine our over-reliance on a fluctuating income tax. The efforts were co-opted in a partisan struggle, and the chance to fix our broken tax structure slipped away.
During the 2005 legislative session, Ben championed efforts to decrease healthcare costs and to increase access. He was chief sponsor of a bill to create civil unions and extend non-discrimination laws to all Oregonians. Believing that party labels often lead to uncompromising ideology, he also advocated for a nonpartisan legislature. A proponent of alternative energy, he was instrumental in expanding the solar energy tax credit.
Today, Ben serves as chair for Central Oregon Special Olympics, and he is a board member for Trillium Family Services and is on the OSU-Cascades Advisory Board. He is also involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, Caring for Our Troops on the Oregon Health Policy Commission. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the National Conference of State Legislators.
Professionally, Ben consults on increasing efficiencies in healthcare. He and his wife Libby, who serves on the Mount Bachelor National Ski Patrol, have two children: a son B.J. (17) and a daughter Taylor (13).
I'll write more about Westlund when I get the chance. As I've already mentioned, I admire his courage in supporting civil unions. I also believe that Oregon needs a basic, working healthcare system that is sustainable (and doesn't devolve into a bloated socialist program). I'm a proud Republican and have been for two years, but I've been both a Democrat and a Green; one thing that hasn't changed for me is that I think the two-party system hurts American politics. I like that Westlund supports open primaries. I believe there are a lot of issues that could be solved by negotiation, compromise, and finding common ground; and the current partisan setup works against that. It's basically anti-solution-oriented. As Ben's campaign says, "We have a closed primary system that is set up to elect the most democratic Democrats and the most republican Republicans and then we send them all to Salem and wonder why they can’t get along."