The Oregon State Capitol building is largely empty these days, aside from the facilities staff moving legislative offices around prior to the start of the 2017 session. But a notable recent exception was Friday, December 30, when former longtime state representative Dennis Richardson was sworn in as Oregon’s 26th Secretary of State.
Members of various Republican Women’s clubs started arriving in Salem in the hours immediately before the ceremony. The Senate chambers began filling with guests, well-wishers, elected officials and conservative activists from all over the state.
Richardson’s inauguration was a collective triumph for Oregon Republicans, who had long struggled to elect candidates to statewide offices. The ceremony represented a hard-fought success after years of frustration as the countless volunteer phone calls and door knocks finally paid off.
In a way, Richardson’s November general election victory over Democrat and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian showed Republicans in this blue state that there is, indeed, a path out of the political wilderness.
Former Secretary of State Phil Kiesling, a Democrat who held the position from 1991 to 1999, served as master of ceremonies. He gave a brief history lesson about the office and its past duties.
One of Richardson’s many grandchildren lead the packed crowd in the pledge of allegiance before Congressman Greg Walden (R-Oregon) began his remarks.
Walden, the sole Republican member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation, reminded the audience that it had been 40 years since Norma Paulus was sworn in as Secretary of State.
Paulus, a former legislator, was Oregon’s first female Secretary of State and the first woman ever elected to one of its statewide public offices. She was also the last Republican to hold that position, which she did from 1977 to 1985.
Walden characterized the position as being “immensely important” to the state and its people. He noted Richardson’s “sharp eye” for budgets and numbers and “sharper pencil.”
“All Oregonians can take pride in our new Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson,” Walden said.
Richardson took the oath and gave some remarks. He began by recognizing current employees of the Secretary of State’s office, who were welcomed with warm applause.
A former helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Richardson told an anecdote about doing a landing in a combat zone. The helicopter was filled with villagers that he had to transport, Richardson said, and he had to do a corkscrew landing to avoid enemy fire.
Richardson said the experience taught him that it’s one thing to have authority and another to take responsibility for those that you have authority over. He vowed to take his new responsibilities seriously.
“As Secretary of State, I will represent all of you,” he said.
Richardson’s first day in office is Tuesday, January 3.