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Metsger’s version

Rick Metsger

Rick Metsger

The run for Oregon secretary of state may slow just a bit next week with the opening of the Oregon Legislature, seeing as how all four of the candidates (all Democrats; no Republican yet) are state senators. But some of the contours of the race are coming clearer, thanks to talks we’ve had with two of the candidates so far, Vicki Walker early in January, and this week with Rick Metsger. (At some point we hope to chat as well with the other two contenders, Kate Brown and Brad Avakian.)

Metsger, deep-snowed out of his mountainside house at Welches, was in Salem on campaign and Senate activities, and waxing intense on his view of what the secretary of state’s office ought to be. Walker had, too, but Metsger’s approach was distinct from hers. Among these four candidates who aren’t radically different in political ideology, those takes on how the office should be shaped may be some of the most useful defining differences between them.

Hadn’t seen Metsger’s tack on this coming, based on what we knew of his background and saw on his web site. The web centerpiece is Metsger’s endorsement by Bill Walton, the Trailblazer of years back, who met Metsger back when Metsger was the sports anchor for Portland KOIN-TV. That media background and the big initial endorsement might suggest slick and light on substance, but Metsger’s take on what the office should be and what he’d like to do with it takes his candidacy in a whole different direction.

It starts with something fairly ordinary for candidates – “as I listen to people about where Oregon is going, people want leadership” – but Metsger seems to have something specific in mind: “Confidence in government: Confidence by the electorate that the government is doing what it is supposed to do.”

The secretary of state’s office is, largely, the state’s chief record-keeper, of elections records, official documents (including rules and proclamations), corporate and business records and audits. Metsger outlined an office that manages those functions but whose elected officer links them, through high-visibility communications, to public interest and involvement, and education about what the state government is doing. As a piece of that, he also suggested the secretary of state become a non-voting member of the state Board of Education, to agitate for civics education. (He said that Avakian is suggesting some related ideas on information dissemination.)

“It’s just information unless you tell people about it,” he said. “We haven’t connected the dots.”

In the Senate, Metsger has been heavily involved in economic development and transportation issues, and sees some linkages there. He has a proposal for breaking up the state’s economic and community development office – an agency Walker has targeted too – and making much more visible the state’s economic development and other grants to local communities.

The race continues civil (Metsger: “Each of my competitors would be a good steward”), but the differences are starting to emerge. Walker might be an advocate and investigator, a classic boat-rocker. Metsger would be more heavily involved in communications and outreach. We’ll be interested to see how Brown and Avakian see the office, and themselves in it.

A quick horserace note. This has the look of a true competition, with four credible candidates in play: You can craft a reasonable primary win scenario for any of them. Metsger’s – and here we should note that he’s the most recent entry to the race, entering just before Thanksgiving months after the others – has to do with his role representing a district running from the edges of Portland, and taking in a fast-growing slice of the metro area, east through Hood River County. Although Hood River is becoming a lot more Democratic than it was even a decade ago, Metsger can fairly say that “I represent the spectrum,” a more varied district, reaching into the Cascades, than his competitors.

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