State House candidate John Moyer sparks controversy by skipping a campaign debate to perform surgery on a pregnant patient on October 21, 1986.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 3/04/2015
  • Essay 11033
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On October 21, 1986, State House candidate John Moyer (1922-2014) sparks a controversy by skipping a campaign debate to perform surgery on a pregnant patient. Republican Moyer is one of Spokane’s best-known gynecologist/obstetricians and is running as a first-time candidate against Democrat Jan Polek (1933-2012), director of the YWCA Alternatives to Domestic Violence program in Spokane. When Moyer fails to show, Polek spends much of the hour allotted to the debate answering questions from the audience. She says that Moyer’s absence "indicates a lack of respect for the voters that I find somewhat disturbing" (Camden, "Moyer Fails to Show"). Some officials at the Women’s Center suggest that Moyer deliberately rearranged surgeries to duck the debate. But Moyer says that one of his former patients had her baby die over the weekend and she asked him to perform the surgery to remove the baby. He says, "If that costs me votes, I’m sorry"(Camden, "Moyer Fails to Show"). Moyer will go on to defeat Polek by a tiny margin in the November 1986 election and begin a 10-year career in the Washington State Legislature.

Politics vs. Patient

The debate at the Eastern Washington University Women’s Center in Cheney had been scheduled for months and officials at the Women’s Center say that Moyer notified them only the day before that he had scheduled a surgery and wouldn’t be attending. Polek noted that Moyer had also failed to appear at a previous YWCA candidate's forum.

"It seems that it's somehow these women’s center things that are frightening" to Moyer, said Polek (Camden, “Moyer Fails To Show”).

Moyer said that this was not the case. "She asked me yesterday if I would take her (for surgery) and I said yes," said Moyer. "I’ve got a sick lady and I’m not going to leave her"(Camden, "Moyer Fails to Show"). He added that he was sorry he couldn’t make the debate.

A few days later, Kevin Egeland wrote a letter-to-the-editor published in The Spokesman-Review, which said, "John Moyer is my wife’s doctor. The pregnant woman, whose fetus died over the weekend, was my wife. Moyer conducted tests on my wife the following Monday; we decided to induce labor Tuesday morning. He decided not to show up for the debate Tuesday morning so he could be with us instead. My wife Shelley and I wish to thank him" (Egeland).

There was some irony in Polek's charge that he was frightened by women’s events.  Moyer had a longtime reputation as an advocate for women and children. One of his support groups was called Moms for Moyer, and was made up largely of his women patients. Republican observers joked that if all of the 7,500 babies he had delivered -- and their mothers -- voted for him, he was certain to win.

They probably did, in fact, make a difference in a race that was ultimately decided by only 86 votes.

Sources: Jim Camden, "Moyer Fails to Show For Debate, Cites Medical Work," The Spokesman-Review, October 22, 1986, p. C-6; Kevin Egeland, "Reason for Doctor’s Absence," letter-to-the-editor, The Spokesman-Review, October 25, 1986, p. A-4; Jim Camden, "Seeking Women’s Vote From Different Angles," The Spokesman-Review, August 25, 1986, p. A-1; Jim Kershner interview with Joanne Halstead Moyer, February 6, 2015, Spokane Washington, transcript in possession of Jim Kershner, Spokane.

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