Mercer Island physician in race for 41st state representative seat

Islander Dr. Peter Dunbar is running for state representative against incumbent Marcie Maxwell, a Democrat of Renton, for the 41st District seat in the Washington State House of Representatives. Dunbar, a Republican, is an anesthesiologist at Harborview Medical Center who works on trauma-related cases and is an associate professor at the University of Washington.

This is Dunbar’s first run for elected office. His first response to the obvious “why are you running?” query is his own question:

“Did you know that of all the lawyers, business owners, teachers, nurses and other professionals representing us in Olympia, there is not a single M.D.?” he asks.

He intends to change that.

Though he has not previously served as an elected official, Dunbar, 56, calls himself civic-minded.

“I may have been on the periphery, but here are a set of issues that I have the background and experience in,” he said.

Yet, he has been involved directly with the legislature and regulatory matters throughout his tenure with the Washington State Medical Association, of which he was elected president in 2006. And as a physician, he emphasized, it is all about cost, care and regulation.

Dunbar, a 20-year Island resident, was a hands-on participant in the negotiation of HR 2292, concerning medical malpractice and patient safety, and bringing together “advocates on both sides of the aisle,” where he said he had the chance to see legislation made up close.

“I think the greatest achievement (of that bill) has been to make patient care safer and compensation for medical misadventure fairer — it was an exemplary result of people with differing viewpoints (doctors and lawyers) sitting down together to create better legislation than either alone could have created.”

According to his Web site, Dunbar has also worked on federal health reform issues on behalf of his Washington colleagues, specifically to keep the Medicare system solvent and maintain patient access to medical care.

Within the state Legislature, there is much to be done, he said. It will only be accomplished in an environment that is less partisan and more change-oriented.

His main goal, he said, is to “reset government.”

Issues such as the state’s fiscal crisis require a change in the culture, he explained.

“We cannot continue spending the money we don’t have,” he said. Funding for schools, he continued, is the most pressing fiscal crisis. “We need to apply our best minds to this.” And his hands-on experience both as a practitioner and advocate for medical care gives him the expertise necessary, he said, to navigate and negotiate the effects of federal health care reform at the state level. Each state needs to participate to ensure that the needs of residents here are taken care of, he emphasized.

When asked what voters should know about the difference between himself and his opponent, Marcie Maxwell, he answered: spending.

“Socially, Marcie and I agree probably 95 percent of the time. The biggest difference will be in the arena of our fiscal positions; how we spend, or prioritize the state’s spending. Marcie Maxwell voted yes on $800 million in new taxes in 2010. I would have voted no. She also ignored the will of the voters and suspended voter-approved Initiative 960. As representative, I will respect the will of the voter.”

Dunbar was born in Scotland and graduated from the Aberdeen University Medical School in 1978. He came to the United States 30 years ago and completed his residency at the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital in Charleston. He is board certified in both pain medicine and anesthesiology. He earned a M.B.A. from the University of Washington in 2003.

He has worked at Harborview Medical Center and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where he cared for patients and taught others.

He has many roles.

Dunbar is also an entrepreneur and businessman, co-founding Seattle-based Talaria Inc. in 1994. The firm researches new ways to improve health care while building eLearning programs for health care professionals.

Dunbar’s work has branched out into other areas including the use of electronic medical records, alleviating pain and suffering in bone marrow transplant patients and the science of informatics. His biography includes a long list of appointments and leadership positions in organizations designed to improve and expand patient care and access.

The physician and his wife, Jackie, have two adult sons.

The candidate said he has learned a good deal from the hundreds of doorbells he has rung since early spring.

He appreciates and embraces the diversity he has found. He wants to know what people are interested in, he said. And as a physician in the busiest ER in the Pacific Northwest, Dunbar has a lifetime of experience with different people and cultures in stressful conditions. Most people he talks with now are saying the same thing.

“I am surprised how often I hear from people worried about Olympia’s and Washington, D.C.’s spending,” he said.

Election coverage

Dunbar will face Maxwell in the November general election. Stories in the Reporter in the coming weeks will include information about each candidate, their background and accomplishments, election finances and the issues before the legislature.

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