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Fond farewells to Dennis Richardson


People from all over Oregon gathered Wednesday, March 6 at the state capitol in Salem for a memorial service honoring Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

Richardson, 69, was the first official to lay in state at the capitol rotunda since the passing of former Governor Tom McCall in 1983. He served for over a decade in the Oregon House of Representatives and was Oregon’s 45th Secretary of State.

A U.S. flag draped his casket as Richardson’s family was joined by a wealth of well-wishers and former and current lawmakers who served with him.

Former Secretary of State Phil Keisling praised Richardson for his “fierce fidelity.” Deputy Secretary of State Leslie Cummings said Richardson had a vision for the agency that centered on transparency, accountability and integrity and valuing Oregon’s people and its character.

Cummings praised Richardson for his work ethic and energy, saying he was like the “Energizer Bunny” and would work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“He wore us out trying to keep up with him,” she said.

Governor Kate Brown said Richardson’s first priority was his wife Cathy and their nine children and 31 grandchildren. Richardson had a kind heart that guided him and his work, Brown said.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR 2) compared Richardson to former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, who also recently passed away. Both were “transformative figures” who used the talents of the agency’s audits division and ran elections divisions that were free of political interference.

The often-somber ceremony featured a pledge of allegiance lead by Oregon’s Kid Governors, a program Richardson started once taking over as Secretary of State. It also saw performances by one of his granddaughters and three of his daughters singing his favorite hymn. A closing prayer was led by Rep. Duane Stark (R-Grants Pass), who represents the House seat Richardson held for so long.

Richardson, who served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with brain cancer last year and passed away February 26.

Changing the guard


Much has been written lately in the press about the Oregon Legislature’s upcoming 2018 session, as lawmakers, staff and lobbyists prepare to descend on the capitol in Salem for its February 5 onset.

But the big story of this short session is a situation that is unprecedented — there are going to be several legislators who have been appointed to their seats through a process involving precinct committee people and county commissioners.

Those recent appointments to vacant seats have been occurring in both the House and the Senate, for seats held by Democrats and Republicans, and from districts stretching all over the state, from the Portland metropolitan area clear to the Idaho border.

First was longtime Republican Rep. Vic Gilliam, who stepped down from his House District 18 seat in Marion County due to health reasons. He was replaced by former Silverton Mayor Rick Lewis.

Former Lake Oswego area legislator Ann Lininger, a Democrat, was appointed to a judgeship by Governor Brown. Her seat in House District 38 was filled by former lobbyist Andrea Salinas.

Republican Mark Johnson resigned as the state representative for House District 52 to take over as head of Oregon Business and Industry and was replaced by Hood River resident Jeff Helfrich.

Another Republican, John Huffman, gave up his seat representing Central an Northern Oregon in House District 59 for a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He was replaced by Rep. Dan Bonham.

Jodi Hack took over as head of the Homebuilders Association, and the Marion County Board of Commissioners unanimously appointed fellow Republican Denyc Boles to fill her seat in House District 19.

Two Senate seats vacated simultaneously when Brown appointed Democrat Richard Devlin and Republican Ted Ferrioli to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Cliff Bentz was appointed to fill Ferrioli’s seat in the vast Senate District 30 that covers much of Eastern Oregon. But in so doing, Bentz had to step down from his seat in House District 60. The process to fill Devlin’s suburban Portland Senate seat will conclude soon. Lynn Findley was appointed yesterday to fill the HD 60 seat vacated by Cliff Bentz's promotion to the Senate.

The loss of so many members is just the beginning of the brain drain coming to the capitol.

Oregon’s Legislative Revenue Officer for the last 20 years recently retired, and at least five House members with considerably seniority have already announced that they won’t seek re-election. Their districts cover areas as diverse as Medford, Clackamas and Lane counties and the northern coast.

Even assuming the extremely unlikely scenario that other incumbents don’t announce their retirements in the coming weeks, or that every incumbent who does seek another term is re-elected, the legislature has already lost several decades’ worth of institutional knowledge and will be losing many more by the start of the 2019 session.

(photo/Scott Jorgensen, showing the arrival of Bentz at the Senate.)

A national model for education?


U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participated in a roundtable discussion with students, teachers and administrators from McMinnville High School (MHS) at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 11.

The discussion followed a tour that DeVos took of the school, as protesters and supporters gathered outside in the rainy fall weather. There were no such protests at the museum, which is a private facility.

It also came hours after the announcement that Oregon’s chief state schools officer, Salem Noor, resigned abruptly and immediately and was replaced on an interim basis by Governor Kate Brown’s education innovation officer Colt Gill. Brown was out of the country participating in an Asian trade mission.

DeVos sipped coffee, listening intently and smiling as students shared their success stories.

MHS Principal Tony Vicknair told DeVos about the 17 pathways that the school provides for students in an attempt to tie learning to career opportunities. He said the school encourages students to try multiple pathways, and that it’s just as important for them to know what areas they don’t want to pursue as careers.

A male student described how his father’s career in construction and his own passion for welding helped inspire him to pursue the school’s fabrication pathway. He said he had a “good experience with it.”

“It’s fulfilling to work in that area,” he said. “It’s an experience I probably wouldn’t trade for anything else.”

Another student had been tasked with building a business as part of his coursework, and has used that experience to establish his own clothing brand. Still another said he has been working with local farmers to use unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance the productivity of their fields.

One student, whose father is a plumber, said he enjoys working outside and with his hands. His focus has been on woodshop and construction, and said he’s confident he will be able to make a good living without having to take out student loans.

Multiple students talked about the financial hardships they had growing up and how the school and its programs and staff have helped them overcome those challenges. A common theme of the talk was the ways in which more opportunities in school create more opportunities in life, as students receive hands-on experience working with employers in the area.

Vicknair touted the school’s status as the best in Oregon at utilizing a state program that allows students to earn college credits before they graduate. He added that MHS has 17 advanced placement (AP) classes, and that more of its students took AP tests last year than ever before.

The second round of the discussion involved a panel of teachers and administrators. Vicknair said that when he first took over as principal, the school only had four pathways. Administrators worked to expand those options for students.

“We’re pushing kids to grow,” a teacher told DeVos.

DeVos said the discussion was “very inspiring” and praised the pathways concept.

“It’s very clear you have a special school,” she said. “You each have important stories to tell.”

Vicknair characterized MHS as the best high school in Oregon. One would expect him to say such a thing, but it was obvious that he truly means it, and none of the students in the room seemed to disagree.

Overall, it was a much more productive discussion than any of the shouting that took place outside of the high school during DeVos’ visit or on social media in the days leading up to it. That kind of demonization is far too common in these divisive times.

So much of politics in the modern era has become about personalities, instead of policies and their eventual outcomes. This is especially true when it comes to education and a system that everyone seems to agree hasn’t been working as well as it could or should, including those who wonder what there is to show for the decades that the federal Department of Education has been in existence.

At the end of the day, it isn’t about President Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos—it’s about teachers encouraging students to pursue their hopes, dreams and passions, which is everything our education system should be about. It’s something that the staff at MHS appear to be doing rather well, which begs the question of whether that kind of success can be duplicated at the national level.

If DeVos’ trip to McMinnville is any indication of what she plans to do in her position, then perhaps her critics’ fears will prove to be unfounded and petty.

A young man stood alone outside the museum yelling his disapproval of DeVos as the event concluded. However, his slogans went unheard by the various students, teachers, administrators, school board members and other officials who sat inside dining at a reception honoring the school and its impressive achievements.

The Courtney Bridge


Decades of dedication and dreams came to fruition on the morning of Wednesday, August 2 with a celebration honoring the completion of the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge in Salem.

Named after Oregon’s senior legislator and longest-serving Senate President, the bridge represents the culmination of countless hours of effort from many in the community.
The ceremony’s original start time was moved to earlier in the morning due to anticipated triple-digit temperatures. That seemed to sit well with those in attendance, including local officials, state senators and other dignitaries.

Songs by the Beatles played as the crowd settled in and a parade made its way to the Riverfront Park Amphitheater. The music was eventually turned off and replaced by the sound of live bagpipes being played by color guard members marching in approach.

In his remarks, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett credited the agencies and officials who were involved in transforming the pedestrian and bicycle bridge project from an idea to a reality.

Bennett said that Courtney, who began his political career as a member of the Salem city council in the 1970s, contributed to the initial vision and championed it through the legislative process.

So far, Bennett said, over 120,000 people have crossed the bridge. He reminisced about how the surrounding area used to consist largely of factories and blackberry bushes, and said that additional improvements are now planned for it.

“What a wonderful new feature this is for our downtown,” Bennett said. “Our downtown community is seeing the impact of new investment.”

Courtney then approached the podium, wearing his trademark tennis shoes. He started off with a few jokes, like those of us who know him have learned to expect, before giving special recognition to his wife and to family members who came over from Montana for the event.

Also mentioned by Courtney were his Senate colleagues seated in the front row. They looked much happier while sitting together for the first time since the 2017 legislative session ended nearly a month ago than in the days, weeks and months before then.

Senators Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), Lew Frederick (D-Portland), Brian Boquist (R-Dallas), James Manning (D-Eugene), Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin), Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) and Fred Girod (R-Stayton) were joined by Reps. Teresa Alonso Leon (D-Woodburn) and Brian Clem (D-Salem), whose House districts comprise the one represented by Courtney in the Senate.
Courtney, 74, said that people have been texting him pictures of themselves and their families on the bridge. He lamented that the nation and its people are divided, and stated his continued worry for its young people.

However, the metaphor of building bridges was not lost upon Courtney or anyone else in attendance. Neither was the historical significance of the moment.

Representatives of Friends of Two Bridges, a community organization, presented Bennett with an oversized check for over $100,000 to fund amenities at the park adjacent to the bridge. Immediately afterwards, the crowd walked over to the bridge for the official ribbon cutting as the Beatles classic “All You Need is Love” came through the loudspeakers.

Courtney began his legislative career in the House in the mid-1980s before being elected to the Senate in the late 1990s. As Senate President, he has been a steady hand and moderating influence, who typically takes the long view on issues with a sense of pragmatism not always witnessed in the House.

It isn’t just that the offices are bigger in the Senate — they are much larger—but it’s a completely different atmosphere, and one less prone to the kind of partisanship, pettiness, personalities, egos and ambitions seen in the lower chamber. Courtney deserves much of the credit for that.

The 2017 session was characterized by many as being divisive. It certainly was in the House. But it was more harmonious in the Senate, and usually is. That was true at least until July, when temperatures increase and tempers tend to flare throughout the capitol building.

Senators worked through the Fourth of July holiday while House members took a few days off. Both chambers adjourned three days later, but the Senate did so hours before the House. They usually try to do so at the same time and open the doors of both chambers simultaneously, but the Senate and its members were done waiting for the House to conclude its business.

There’s been a lot of speculation since then among capitol insiders and the press as to whether Courtney will seek another term in his seat, which is up in 2018. I don’t know Courtney well enough to have any direct knowledge as to his future plans. However, I have learned a lot from Courtney over the years, just from watching him and the way he operates.

I’ve been lucky to have developed a good working relationship with Courtney and his staff. It probably began in early 2015 when I interviewed him for a local radio show. He may have expected a live, on-air ambush from this Republican operative, but I had enough respect for Courtney and his office to not do that to him, or anybody.

What I do know is that Oregon will never see another Peter Courtney. Hopefully, its residents will recognize how truly fortunate they were to have him in leadership for as long as they have.

I also know that 30 years from now, I’ll be able to say that I knew Courtney and worked with him. I’ve been around long enough to know when I’m in the presence of tomorrow’s historical figures. He’s definitely one of them.

The Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge should still be standing by then, and for many years after. And if that isn’t a legacy, I don’t know what is.

Norquist on the center-right


National conservative icon Grover Norquist addressed a group of around 50 grassroots activists Saturday, January 28 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Lake Oswego.

Norquist, the president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, gave the keynote address at the sixth annual Western Liberty Network leadership and training conference.

He began his remarks by stating that the press has been so focused on President Donald Trump’s personality that it has missed the big picture in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Half of the states in the county have Republican governors and majorities in both legislative chambers, he said, and a majority of the nation’s people live in “red states.” Only four states are under complete Democratic control. Oregon and California are the “only blue states you can find without a magnifying glass,” Norquist said.
States such as Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia that have traditionally been run by Democrats now have Republican governors and majorities in their legislative chambers. Norquist predicted that Delaware and Minnesota would be among the next states to flip Republican.

In his remarks, Norquist said that the modern center-right movement is comprised of coalitions whose members’ votes are moved by a desire to be left alone and not have their taxes raised. He described the coalition as “low-maintenance,” and said its members don’t tend to want anything from each other.

“They’re not in conflict on a political level,” Norquist said. “Our friends on the left don’t have that.”

Norquist said that Democratic coalition members, including “coercive utopians,” all remain harmonious with each other as long as there’s money in the middle of the table.

“The left is not made up of friends and allies,” he said.

Conservative coalition members such as homeschoolers and concealed carry permit holders are now being joined by Uber and Lyft drivers who are being threatened with increased government regulations of their new emerging industries.

Norquist said that the structures for Democratic coalition members can be defunded. Approximately 27 states have passed right-to-work laws, he added, and more are set to follow soon.

Over 135,000 government workers in Wisconsin stopped paying union dues after reforms gave them the option to not do so, Norquist said. As a result, around $135 million less is flowing into union coffers per year. Around 30,000 teachers in Michigan are no longer paying union dues, for a total annual loss of $20 million.

During a question and answer session, Norquist predicted that reforms to the Affordable Care Act will involve the distribution of Medicaid block grants to states and separate high-risk pools for persons with preexisting conditions. Once that is accomplished, he said that the Trump administration would tackle tax reform, with one of its components being the complete elimination of federal estate taxes.

Health care now


A few hundred people braved freezing winter weather Friday, January 6 to hear former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley discuss the future of health care policy under the Trump administration.

The early morning breakfast forum was held at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland. It was billed as an overview of how the incoming Republican president-elect’s policies will affect the health care reforms that have been initiated in “blue states” such as Oregon and Maryland.

O’Malley, who served two terms as that state’s 61st governor, ran for president in last year’s Democratic primary election. He was also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association from 2011 to 2013. Under his leadership, Maryland became the first state to adopt an all-payer system that included all of the hospitals within its borders.

Kitzhaber said that in the 30 years since the creation of the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), millions of the state’s residents have benefited from expanded insurance coverage. Access was expanded to 400,000 Oregonians, Kitzhaber said, with subsidies provided to 95,000 of them.

However, he added that the program did not connect with outcomes or address costs within the health care system.

O’Malley said that many states, including Washington and Maryland, had commissions as far back as 1978 that set insurance rates. But many of those states abandoned that approach over time.

Health insurance reforms implemented in Maryland saved the federal Medicare program $116 million in their first year, O’Malley said. Those reforms involved a process that begins with rate setting and utilizes a global budgeting system.

Rates are set for hospitals by the rate commission, O’Malley said. Those entities agree on a budget and prices. Volumes are monitored, prices are adjusted and hospitals get to keep the savings that result from improved patient wellness, he said.

O’Malley said that hospital revenues are estimated in advance and an emphasis is placed on preventing unnecessary patient admissions. Some Maryland hospitals began changing their inpatient centers into wellness centers to achieve those aims.

“I believe we have found a better way to move forward in Maryland,” O’Malley said.

Following his presentation, entitled “Paying for Wellness—Maryland’s Story,” O’Malley took a seat besides Kitzhaber and a few others for a panel discussion.

Kitzhaber said that prior to the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, insurance premiums went up 75 percent between the years 2001 and 2008. Out-of-pocket expenses went up over 100 percent, Kitzhaber added, and 44 million Americans lacked coverage.

Like previous efforts, Kitzhaber said the ACA was insurance reform, but did not address the underlying inflation in the system.

O’Malley and Kitzhaber both said they felt that progress on health care reform has been made in their respective states, and it is worth fighting to protect. They agreed that states like Oregon and Maryland can reframe the debate on the issue.

“I think we should step into this thing boldly,” Kitzhaber said.

Kitzhaber did caution, though, that trying to obstruct the incoming Trump administration will not help Oregonians. He concluded that “blue state” leaders like himself and O’Malley need to offer rational solutions as part of the process.

Taking the oath


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.

Defending law and order


Working at the Oregon State Capitol, protests become a regular part of life. This is especially true during legislative sessions. Every group you could imagine has its own lobby day and busses people from all over the state for some sort of rally or protest.

I always try to make it a point to go check them out, if I can. If people care enough about something to take time out of their day to come to the capitol to be heard, I figure the least I can do is try to listen.

That’s just how it is when you work at the most public building in the state. But such a high level of accessibility has its upsides and downsides.

Sometimes it can be amusing.

The first legislative session I worked was in 2005. An Alaska resident went and bought a bunch of cheap beer to advocate for a higher beer tax in Oregon. His entire argument was that our tax is so low that it encourages underage drinking.

This man was kicked out of the capitol by the Oregon State Police after it was discovered that he was handing that beer out at legislative offices—some of which were staffed by underage interns. I was among those that he handed half-racks of beer to as a TV news crew followed, but was 24 and over the legal drinking age. Of course, there’s no small degree of irony in a guy saying that beer is too easy for minors to obtain getting in trouble for handing it directly to them.
Sometimes it can be scary.

During the February 2016 session, a bill was being passed to honor former Senate President Brady Adams (R-Grants Pass). I had gotten to know him during my days as news director of the Grants Pass Broadcasting Corporation and thought the world of him. He was a pillar of that community until his passing last year.

Because I had such respect and admiration for him, I wanted to be on the Senate floor when he was honored. Adams was praised for his character and good deeds by Senators from both parties.
All of this was rudely and inappropriately interrupted by a group of protesters who stood in the gallery unfurling banners and shouting slogans. Another group did the same in the House while a third was causing a similar disruption outside of the governor’s office.

It didn’t take long to realize that we were sitting ducks down there in the Senate floor. They could have easily hurled projectiles at us, or much, much worse. And this went on for what seemed like an eternity. Going back and reviewing the video footage, I could see myself in the bottom of the screen, visibly agitated and wondering why this was being allowed to continue.

No arrests ever resulted from that disrespectful disturbance.
Maybe that’s why an anonymous e-mailer felt empowered enough to send a message to Senate Republicans weeks later threatening mob action at their homes. It appears to be the same kind of mob action being done in Portland in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

More recently, Second Amendment activists staged an open carry protest on the capitol’s front steps. The sight of men armed with guns scares some people who work there or know people that do and makes them feel nervous and unsafe. Many people who support the ability to protect your family in your own home draw the line somewhere between there and having guys display their firearms at the state capitol building.

The OSP were there, as always, and thank God for that. Their large presence that day may have seemed a little excessive. At one point, it almost looked like there were as many police officers as protesters. There was a whole line of them beyond the revolving front doors, and another cluster visible from there, up above and in front of the governor’s office.
I went outside to see what the fuss was about, and there was an effigy of Governor Kate Brown. It was obvious what was going to happen next so I went back to my office. The overwhelming OSP presence made much more sense.

That particular act, which is an implied threat of violence, seemed to accomplish little but make Brown more of a hero and martyr to her supporters. Anyone would be hard-pressed to say that it drew more people to the cause.

It reminds me of a book that everyone in politics should read, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This would be the polar opposite, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. If nothing else, it’s a great example of what not to do.

My thirties have taught me virtues that I lacked in my twenties. Among them are humility, temperance and tact. The key to tact is simple—Don’t be a jerk. There’s not much else to it.

Sometimes the protests happen elsewhere.

A protest in rural Burns over the imprisonment of some ranchers turned into a prolonged siege at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. That all ended over a month later with many arrests and one occupant shot by police.

After spending most of the year in jail, the occupiers, who started as protesters, were found not guilty on all charges.

And just to think—many people commented on online news stories about the standoff that the government should just use predator drones to kill them all on site without due process.
I was at a dinner event the night the verdict was read. The keynote speaker was the U.S. Attorney, whose office had handled the case. Both his work and private cell phones rang off the hook as he spoke, interfering with the PA system. It’s easy to imagine that some of those calls may have been from people wondering what had happened on what could have been one of the worst days of his life.

The people in Portland protesting the election of Republican Donald Trump by damaging other peoples’ property need to remember the Golden Rules of Tact:

Don’t be a jerk.

Don’t jam up roads and public transit so people can’t get home or to work.

Don’t destroy things that aren’t yours.

What makes it worse is that this is happening on a holiday to honor those who fought for Americans’ rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. Once again, tact is important.
History shows that there can be consequences for these kinds of things. I wasn’t around for the 1960s, but I could just imagine all those anti-war protesters being aghast when Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide in 1972.

Nixon did it by being the Law and Order candidate. As protests went from peaceful to violent, Middle America did not like what it saw and demanded a return to Law and Order.

These kinds of protests are probably not the kind of thing Barack Obama wanted as part of his administration’s legacy. But if the public wants more Law and Order and a Trump administration can deliver it, these protesters may end up with eight years of their worst nightmare. And no amount of protesting will be able to stop it from happening and may very well guarantee it.

Squaring off for SOS


Far from the fanfare of Monday night’s presidential debate, the two main candidates for Oregon Secretary of State squared off the following afternoon on the campus of Willamette University in Salem.
Members of the Statesman Journal editorial board moderated the forum, which was attended by around 20 people.

Republican candidate and former state representative Dennis Richardson described how his passion for public service was inspired by reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1990s. That later led to stints as a city councilor and in the Legislature, where he was unanimously elected speaker pro tem at the beginning of the 2005 session.

Richardson, who later served as a co-chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, said he thought he was done with politics after unsuccessfully challenging then-governor John Kitzhaber in the 2014 general election. He spent the following months volunteering at a local employment office before filing to run for Secretary of State.

Democrat Brad Avakian, a civil rights attorney and former legislator, pledged to use the Secretary of State’s office to ensure fairness and equity, and said he’s taken that approach in his current position of Labor Commissioner. Avakian said his accomplishments as Labor Commissioner include shrinking wage disparities between men and women in the state, bolstering apprenticeship programs and returning shop classes to schools.

If elected Secretary of State, Avakian said he would break down barriers to the ballot box, pursue campaign finance limits, ensure access to voter pamphlet statements via smart phone apps, return civics education to the classroom and use his spot on the State Land Board to make Oregon a global leader in the fight against climate change.

Richardson bemoaned the fact that audits were never conducted for Cover Oregon or the Columbia River Crossing project. Nearly $1 billion was spent on the Oregon Department of Energy’s controversial Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program, he said, yet it took six years for an audit to take place. One-third of those BETC projects were “clouded,” Richardson added, and turned over to the Oregon Department of Justice for further investigation.

The Secretary of State’s Office should function as a non-partisan Government Accountability Office, Richardson said, and can use audits to stop waste.

Differences between the two candidates became very clear in response to a question about Measure 97, a proposed corporate tax projected to bring $3 billion into state coffers annually if approved by voters in November.

Richardson cited an analysis of the measure conducted by the non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office, which estimated that its passage would result in the loss of 38,000 private sector jobs and cost the average Oregonian $600 per year. He added that the money it raised would go to the Legislature as a “blank check.”

Avakian said the measure was necessary, as schools have been “stripped” of music, art, shop and physical education programs. The Legislature has failed at revenue reform, he said, and Measure 97 will “fill the void.”

Both candidates did agree, however, on the need to have more clear and precise language for ballot measure titles and descriptions.

In his closing statements, Richardson characterized Avakian as an “activist” labor commissioner, and said the Secretary of State’s job is not to force change.

“I don’t think we need that kind of aggression,” Richardson said.

Avakian countered by stating that he has been putting Oregonians’ values into action. In concluding his remarks, Avakian said his vision for the Secretary of State’s office includes being assertive and standing up for the rights of Oregonians.