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Portland Fluoride: For the Fourth Time Since 1956, Portland Voters Reject Fluoridation

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Factory Farms & Food Safety page and our Oregon News page.

Fluoride supporters, it appeared, had everything going for them.

Five Portland city commissioners had voted to add fluoride to the city water supply. Health advocacy groups, and many of the city's communities of color, lined up behind the cause. And proponents outraised opponents 3-to-1.

But none of that was enough. For the fourth time since 1956, Portlanders on Tuesday night rejected a plan to fluoridate city water, 60 percent to 40 percent.

"There's a libertarian component to Oregon politics ... a kind of opposition to what the establishment might want," said Bill Lunch, a political science professor at Oregon State University. "Those who have more money, despite the kind of popular presumptions in this regard, don't always win elections."

The lesser-known of two issues on the Portland ballot passed easily. Voters approved a third renewal of the city's Children's Levy with more than 70 percent in favor. The levy directs more than $9 million a year to programs that support about 14,000 children annually in areas such as child abuse prevention, after-school activities and foster care.   

The campaign to renew the levy, however, took a back seat to the fight over fluoride, which intensified in the weeks leading to Election Day.

In Portland, where a largely Democratic electorate often finds liberal candidates struggling to differentiate themselves, the fluoride debate created stark, and heated, divisions.

Both campaigns accused the other of stealing yard signs. A thinly veiled anti-fluoride push poll went out to voters. Opponents were described as insensitive to equity issues, while proponents were accused of wanting to willingly pollute the city's famously pure water.

The issue also wound up politicizing a statewide health report that showed falling cavity and tooth decay rates in the state over the past five years. One of the report's authors said she felt pressured by Upstream Health, the group spearheading fluoridation, to present the findings in a certain way.

More than $1 million was spent on the campaign, a considerable total for a Portland-only election. But Portland finds itself back where it has historically been, as the only city among the nation's 30 most populous to not approve fluoridation.

Clean Water Portland, the group leading the opposition, was hesitant to claim victory, but it was clear an hour after the 8 p.m. ballot deadline that the measure didn't have enough support.

Still, said Kelly Barnes, a spokeswoman for the group, "when you really get down to it, clean water is a universal issue.  

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