Another Democrat has entered the 2016 political race in Missouri, and this time it’s for the congressional 4th District.
Dr. Gordon Christensen, of Columbia, has announced his candidacy for the 4th District, which includes 26 counties in west central Missouri. The seat is currently held by Rep. Vicky Hartzler. He recently retired from the University of Missouri Health System.
“Retirement gave me an opportunity to do something, to address some of the problems I perceived,” Christensen said. “I have my health and the vitality to do that. That’s why I’m doing this. I’m a first-time political candidate — I turned 67 in September — but I have familiarity with the political process, which is part of the background for this campaign.”
During his time as associate chief of staff for research and academia at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, he was asked by his superior to investigate allegations a nurse was killing patients. He said he anticipated finding nothing, but his investigation proved the allegations were true. Christensen said VA officials stalled and “covered up” what was going on. He said eventually the claims were substantiated and published.
During the long process, Christensen testified before Congress on several occasions, and he said that familiarity with government and his willingness to speak his mind make him a good political candidate.
“It’s water under the bridge, but what it taught me was the oversight was actually Congress and whether it was Republican or Democrat, they were dropping the ball and it could be because they were unfamiliar with science, medicine, hospitals, or distracted by having to campaign,” he said. “I don’t know what, but it was very clear to me Congress was a major role in doing all this (with the VA). I wanted to run for office in part to address those issues but also to show this could be done in a better way.”
Christensen retired earlier this year from the University of Missouri Heath System where he served as Chief of Staff from 2008-09 and was a professor and physician for 27 years. Before his time at MU, Christensen was credited with the discovery of “an overlooked skin bacteria that caused often fatal infections in intravenous (IV) lines and other medical implants,” according to his campaign website.
He and his wife Alice, who is a clinical psychologist, have two daughters; one is a professor at Grenell College in Iowa, her father’s alma mater, and the other works in a think tank at Google in California.
“I’m surrounded by intelligent women,” Christensen said. “I’m very much a feminist and I’m a very comfortable supporter of strong women.”
His strongest viewpoints are health-related issues, such as affordable health care and a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
“Right now there are major concerns regarding the cost of health care, access to health care, and who should pay for these things?” Christensen said. “There’s a gross misunderstanding about what actually the Affordable Care Act is and is hoping to achieve. I wanted to campaign to both address that issue but at the same time work with physicians and health care providers to address issues making it difficult to work in the current environment.
“… It’s making it very difficult for hospitals and physicians to work in rural settings. I want to work to address those issues so people in rural Missouri have access to the health care they need. … (As a physician) I’ve seen people struggle with these problems. There’s many ways to approach the high cost of drugs.”
Christensen is also pro-choice, as evidenced by the column he wrote for the Columbia Daily-Tribune about the “misconception often used by people saying life begins at the time of conception,” he said. “… The issue here is not about logic of when does life begin, it’a actually a religious, political and philosophical issue. I believe women have the right to make those decisions themselves based on their beliefs. I think (the decisions) should be made safely, legally. … The government has no role in those decisions, just as they have no say in life-saving medical care.”
When asked what he thought were other big issues facing the 4th District, he said poverty is an “overwhelming” one.
Christensen said he hopes to make several campaign stops in Sedalia. While Pettis and surrounding counties have voted largely Republican in recent years, Christensen said he is hopeful to overcome party lines. He said many of the issues, such as women’s rights and taking care of veterans, are not partisan issues, but rather fundamental beliefs or a basic function of government, respectively.
“Even though the district has a Republican reputation, it has historically been Democrat and I think it can vote Democrat,” he said. “Missourians are fundamentally thoughtful people and labels are not as important of an issue to them; that’s what I hope to communicate to them.
“… I hope the people in Missouri, particularly the 4th District, will separate their view of me as a Democrat and see more of what I can say and appreciate someone who’s not a career politician but someone running on the basis of principle and at the same time has views of issues that benefit people of both parties. My orientation is toward people.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.