For the fourth time since the 1950s, voters in Portland, Oregon, a city known for its embrace of progressive values, last week voted down a plan passed by the city commission to fluoridate its water. A local paper tried to make sense of it all:
For people used to thinking of Portland as the earnestly quirky liberal oasis portrayed in Portlandia and the style pages of The New York Times, the idea that Oregon's largest city agrees with the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society about dosing citizens with fluoride may seem odd. But on Tuesday, for the fourth time since 1956, Portland voters rejected a plan to fluoridate the city's drinking water.
Last September the city commission voted unanimously to take the advice of numerous health officials that fluoridation would reduce cavities in children, especially those “vulnerable” because of lack of proper dental care. All the arguments for fluoridation were trotted out, along with testimonials from various officials and government agencies which have been promoting fluoridation for decades. The proponents were well-funded as well, raising some $850,000 compared to the opponents’ $270,000. Nevertheless, when the final votes were tallied, the referendum failed, 61-39. Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian thought it was because the city’s water was already so pure and clean that residents hated to put anything unnatural into it:
Portland's water has always indeed been sold as largely untreated and literally fresh from the Bull Run watershed, which is protected from logging. So when opponents dubbed themselves "Clean Water Portland" and complained of putting chemicals in the water, they had a more receptive audience.
Slate’s Jeff Bumgart just knew it had to be something to do with the environment and not with the facts:
While there are surely conspiracy theorists and anti-government militants among the ranks of today's Clean Water Portland, the organization's spokespeople and supporters generally do not express the conservative rhetoric … that defines fluoride opposition elsewhere. Such tactics would never work in this liberal city.
Instead, opponents rely on attachment to the environment and natural health care, as well as the current mistrust of pretty much all institutions.
The current “mistrust” of institutions, such as the city commission, is closer to the mark.
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Photo of downtown Portland, Oregon