He is an ophthalmologist, lawyer and pharmacist who does none of these things for a living.
He speaks with authority and passion on issues like campaign finance and health insurance. Yet when he's asked personal questions, he offers abrupt answers in a voice that often cracks nervously like a teenager's.
And thanks to an unexpectedly strong performance two years ago, he is the Arizona Democratic Party's best hope in November to win a historically Republican seat in the state's House of Representatives.
Meet Mark Osterloh, M.D., a.k.a. "the invisible candidate."
To call him a typical physician candidate would be a misnomer, since there seems to be no such thing. Even within the Arizona Legislature, Senate leader Thomas Patterson, M.D., an emergency room administrator and Republican from Phoenix, and Andy Nichols, M.D., a House Democrat from Tucson who runs the University of Arizona's Rural Health Office, often are on opposite sides of issues.
With healthcare issues shooting to the top of the political heap, anecdotal evidence shows doctors are becoming more motivated to participate in politics, even while membership in large lobbying organizations like the American Medical Association is dwindling. It helps, Nichols says, that patients and doctors are becoming allies in fights against managed care.
Twenty-one physician candidates -- an unusually high number -- ran for Congress in 1996, according to Project Vote Smart, a Corvallis, Ore.-based voter education group. In 1998, six doctors launched runs for Congress -- three from the Republican Party, two from the Democratic Party and one from the Maharishi-inspired Natural Law Party (see chart on page 40). No information is available on the number of state-level candidates.
Because there are fewer doctors running doesn't mean they are any less politically active. Nichols says he's noticed doctors increasingly are funneling their individual support, either vocal or financial, to candidates or causes. Without physicians' help, Nichols says, the Healthy Arizona Initiative that Osterloh led two years ago never would have landed on the ballot, much less won.
The problem for physicians wishing to run for office, Nichols says, is finding the time.
"It's not easy to be in political life and be a physician, especially in private practice," says Nichols, whose District 13 adjoins Osterloh's District 12 in the Tucson area. Nichols, elected in 1992, doesn't operate a private practice; he's a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and director of the college's Rural Health Office.
"I work in a different kind of setting where I can do my work on evenings and weekends," Nichols says. Patterson, as an administrator, can do the same.
"But it becomes very difficult in the clinical practice for a doctor to be away from his office," Nichols says.
Spare time is not a problem for Osterloh, 45. He hasn't drawn a paycheck since 1993, when he left a private ophthalmology practice in Green Bay, Wis., to become an Arizona-based spokesman for the Clinton health plan and a full-time politician.
"When you're in private practice, you don't have time" for politics, Osterloh says. "Sometimes you have to make decisions about what's important."
His work life consists of spending 10 days a year as the most active volunteer with the University of Arizona Mobile Eye Unit, which provides care in poor, rural areas of the state.
He and his family are still living off savings from his Green Bay days.
Osterloh's stint as healthcare reform spokesman ended with the Clinton plan's 1995 failure in Congress, but he wasn't through with politics. After all, he entered the University of Arizona's law school after graduating from its medical school in 1979 because he wanted the knowledge to get involved in the "broader, political, legislative issues" of healthcare. He's never practiced law, although he did work as a pharmacist to fund law school.
The death of the Clinton plan cemented two bedrocks of Osterloh's political philosophy. First, that it was still necessary for government to be involved in ensuring access to healthcare. Second, that special-interest money -- specifically, the $100 million the insurance industry spent to enlist worried suburbanites Harry and Louise in an advertising fight against the Clinton plan -- held too much sway over the debate.
Osterloh won't take money from anybody, even individual voters in his northwest Tucson district. The state Democratic Party is targeting his district as one it could win, offering its expertise and perhaps some money. Osterloh won't take either. He says campaign contributions are bribes.
Osterloh realizes voters would like to know more about his personal life, but he's not terribly comfortable giving up details. Here's what happens when you ask him a personal question: First, you get a pause -- one . . . two . . . three -- then a sound like the wind being sucked out of him, followed by a guarded answer.
"I know in public life people might want to know everything under the sun, how many moles you've got," Osterloh says. "It gets a little crazy in that respect. I have my space."
He initially turned down an interview with Modern Physician but ceded after being informed a story was in the works. He says he didn't want to do the interview because he's not the type to "toot his own horn." Not exactly a stereotypical politician.
"You never hear much from him," says Democratic U.S. House candidate Wayne Bryant, who in June hosted Osterloh at a campaign forum for his neighborhood association in Oro Valley, Ariz., a fast-growing, retiree magnet north of Tucson.
"There's concern about where he works, where he gets his money from," Bryant says. "I don't know what Mark stands for, what his beliefs are. You bet (those issues) are a concern among voters."
"I thought he was a professional student," says Dan Schottel, one of Osterloh's Republican opponents.
"He's almost like an invisible candidate," Bryant says.
Where Osterloh is visible is on the streets of his district. Most mornings, he rides his bicycle through the district to meet and greet the voters, mostly a mix of retirees and white-collar workers. They are 45% Republican, 20% Democrat and 35% independent.
This is Osterloh's second go-round for a House seat. He hadn't planned on running in 1996, but he says he did so because he felt the Healthy Arizona Initiative needed an advocate in the House. The initiative would allow Medicaid to cover working families at 100% of the poverty level, up from 33%.
Osterloh spent only $1,000 of his own money and campaigned mostly for Healthy Arizona. When the Secretary of State disputed the validity of petitions to get the initiative on the ballot, Osterloh spent weeks holed up in a Phoenix recorder's office rechecking signatures of registered voters. Healthy Arizona passed by a 72-28 margin, although it has not yet been implemented by the Legislature.
Osterloh didn't win his campaign, but he came closer than his own party expected: 2,656 votes, or 3%, shy of the second-place Republican, retired businessman Schottel. In Arizona, each district elects two House members and a Senator.
Schottel attributes the race's closeness to the lack of a second Democrat. "He picked up all the Democrats, plus people who voted for one Republican but not the other," he says.
Osterloh's take: "I didn't take any campaign contributions at the time. I actually showed that I was involved and getting some important things done."
Osterloh continues to ruffle Schottel, although he says he's not trying to. Osterloh is now vice chairman of Arizonans for Clean Elections, which is pushing an initiative that would provide state funding for candidates who refuse special-interest money. (If people in his district insist on writing him a check, Osterloh tells them to make it out to the Clean Elections campaign.)
In the Oro Valley Neighborhood Association meeting, Osterloh, according to Bryant, the association's president, "insinuated that anybody who took a contribution was a crook." That had Schottel and fellow Republican John Scott out of their seats yelling and brought some catcalls from the crowd of 50 people, who expect their forums to be respectful and genteel. Bryant says Schottel was still visibly upset after the forum, skipping out after a few minutes of post-meeting coffee.
Osterloh says his comments weren't intended to make anybody angry. Andy Morales, a junior-high physical education teacher and the other Democratic candidate in District 12, says Osterloh just says what he feels.
What congressional candidate Bryant worries about is that Osterloh is too focused on Clean Elections to be seen as anything other than a single-issue candidate. But Osterloh says he also is interested in other key issues, such as education funding. The Arizona Legislature was slated to meet last month in special session to consider revamping a funding formula the state Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.
Osterloh expects to win in November, and he expects the Clean Elections initiative to win too. He meets questions about the possibility of losing and going back to medicine with -- no surprise -- a pause.
"If I don't get elected -- what do you know?" he says. "I haven't decided what I'm going to do. I'm expecting to win, but everybody who runs expects to win. If I don't, I don't. Such is life."