Portland Liberals Reject Fluoridated Water On Libertarian Grounds

Many of us Oregonians never expected this, but last week a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Pacific Greens, Independents and even Pirate Party members (yes, a real political party in Oregon) came together to reject a statist mandate to add fluoride to our pristine mountain water. And the vote wasn’t even close:

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.”

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.

In the opinion of many, especially in light of the study showing falling cavity rates among Portland children, the expense of fluoridating Portland’s water seemed like a solution in search of a problem. Maybe for those who live in other large metro areas, this seems like a no-brainer – after all, most large water systems have been fluoridated for decades. And of course, this was about the chiiiiillllldrrreeennnnn. This progressive blogger was shocked by the results, capturing the mood of many Portland elites:

The fact is that fluoridation would have helped protect kids by increasing dental health.


In the wake of Portland’s lopsided decision to reject fluoride people across the country are asking if we reject science in the City of Roses – or more plainly: is Portland just anti-science?

The fear based campaign waged by Clean Water Portland was upsetting enough but the often heard statement by those who identify as progressives that putting fluoride in the water violated their personal choice to take fluoride was perhaps more upsetting.  Portland has never been about “me!” but about “us!”  Not so this week.  The common good lost out to a growing libertarianism that in this case put the needs of children last when they should have gone first.  That children should come first is a bedrock principle of my faith. 

But when faced with a unique opportunity to choose whether this would remain voluntary or become a mandate for all consumers of city water, Portlanders overwhelmingly voted to maintain individual choice when it comes to adding chemicals to their bodies.

Now if only they could come together and realize that the same argument about personal choice applies to Obamacare.