We caught up with state Senator Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, one of the four Democrats running for Oregon Secretary of State, at Cornerstone Coffee in downtown McMinnville. Fresh from one stop with the local paper's editorial board and just ahead of a meeting with county Democrats, she had water, rather than coffee. She said she hasn't drunk coffee (or smoked cigarettes) since the 70s.
That's probably a good thing. Vicki Walker not on coffee does a fair impression of someone rolling fast on their quota for the day; Vicki Walker on coffee might be a little scary.
That's not a criticism, just noting that while most successful candidates (which she has been so far) cultivate a degree of casualness, Walker doesn't especially try: She hits the floor, and the conversation, running, and she doesn't slow down. We've seen some of that in action in her Senate work - the intensity, the determination to soak up details, striding into territory many of her counterparts would as soon leave alone - already; it shows up as well in campaigning.
So does the substance. Most candidates bring up horse-race elements, most often in making the case for their own viability, as a matter of routine; Walker glosses over them, though she does project a sense of confidence. (In our talk, she didn't argue for how or why she'll win the primary.) Her focus is on her legislative projects - past and upcoming this session, and she has been a very busy and often successful legislator - and on what she'd like to do as secretary of state. The legislative work covers a surprisingly broad range, from education to details in the legal system to open records. She's almost relentlessly substantive, in a plain non-wonkish way.
Secretary of state, which in many ways is a ministerial office, would seem to offer less opportunity for someone of her jump-into-the-subject approach. Or maybe not. Unlike counterparts in Idaho and Washington, Oregon's secretary of state is in effect the state auditor as well, and it was when we talked about getting into the auditing function that Walker seemed to light up especially - or was that an almost predatory look? Bringing up the idea of auditing state agencies that could use it, she seemed ready to pounce immediately. And her history of publicly considering an insurgent primary run against a governor of her own party and outing the personal history of former Governor Neil Goldschmidt (you certainly couldn't credibly call her a party hack), among other things, suggest an audit function in her hands could generate some fascinating results. Not to mention being highly entertaining. To call her a boat-rocker (as we have, among others) is probably true enough, but doesn't really cover it.
Walker is one of four candidates so far for secretary of state, like her all Democratic state senators: Kate Brown of Portland, Brad Avakian of Bethany and Rick Metsger of Welches. All bring distinctive qualities, a significant assets, to the contest. Brown is the leading fundraiser, but there's no prohibitive frontrunner here; you could make a reasoned argument for any of them taking the primary.
Walker may be the one who most compulsively draws your attention.