Richardson earns our vote for secretary of state

Statesman Journal - October 3, 2016

Less than two years has passed since Oregonians were reminded of the importance of their secretary of state. That person fills any vacancy in the office of governor, which is how Kate Brown became governor after John Kitzhaber’s resignation.

The secretary of state also has less known but critical day-to-day duties in overseeing voting and elections, state records, audits and business registrations.

Among the candidates for Oregon’s next secretary of state, Southern Oregon Republican Dennis Richardson is best-prepared for that important job.

He has grown as a person and as a politician since his unsuccessful challenge of Kitzhaber two years ago. His passion for serving Oregonians from all walks of life remains strong.

Richardson of Central Point has a formidable opponent in Portland Democrat Brad Avakian, who heads the state Bureau of Labor and Industries. Both men made compelling cases during a forum last week organized by the Statesman Journal Editorial Board and hosted by the Willamette University College of Law.

Their visions for the job are far different. Avakian would be an activist, as he has been as labor commissioner.

Richardson sees the office as being less political while providing important checks and balances on state government. He is much more inclined to look at what works in other states and to bring good ideas to Oregon, whereas Avakian says it’s not the Oregon way to follow other states’ lead.

It is worth remembering that Oregon botched its recent high-profile “do it our way” project — Cover Oregon — and ended up borrowing Kentucky’s approach to creating an online health insurance exchange.

Richardson said the Secretary of State’s Office should function similarly to the federal Government Accountability Office. He would have the Audits Division examine controversial programs, such as Cover Oregon.

Among Avakian’s ideas are expanding civic education among young people. He has a good proposal for creating Oregon Youth Vote, in which students across the state would learn about democracy.

One area where Avakian would not be an activist is in changing how Oregon establishes the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts. Satisfied with the status quo, he says gerrymandering is not a problem in Oregon.

We disagree. Few legislative and congressional races in Oregon are competitive this fall, because district boundaries were drawn to favor political parties and incumbents.

Richardson is willing to have those boundaries drawn by an independent, nonpartisan commission instead of the Legislature and secretary of state.

Neither Richardson nor Avakian earned the Editorial Board’s endorsement in the May primary election. But Richardson has put the ensuing months to good use, establishing himself as credible and pragmatic candidate. His answers to the Editorial Board’s questionnaire were especially thoughtful. [Dennis Richardson's answers] [Brad Avakian's answers]

Oregon also would be well-served by having more balanced state leadership, with Republicans joining Democrats in statewide offices.

Incumbent Jeanne P. Atkins, whom Gov. Brown appointed to fill the remainder of her secretary of state term, is not seeking election.

Whoever is elected Nov. 8 will be expected to serve Oregonians for four years. That should be Dennis Richardson.