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Scott Bruun: Oregon’s Race for Secretary of State More Important Than Ever

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


This of course has changed the calculus for Republicans.

Over the next few months, especially once the 2015 legislative session ends, Oregonians will begin to spend more-and-more time talking about the office of governor. And why not? It’s the top job, the Big Kahuna. The number one position in all of Oregon government.

More to the point, we’ll talk about it because the Top Job is now off-kilter. Kitzhaber’s implosion changed everything. We weren’t supposed to have gubernatorial election in 2016, after all. And there certainly wasn’t supposed to be a sitting governor enjoying all the benefits of incumbency during the next election.

This of course has changed the calculus for Republicans who were looking to field a top candidate for an open guv’s seat in 2018. It has also changed the calculus of State Treasurer Ted Wheeler who, term-limited from continuing his current job, was hoping to be the Democrat’s Mahonia Hall-heir apparent

Meaning? Well, Republicans will still field a good candidate for governor – just earlier. Maybe Allen Alley, whom I wrote of last week. And Ted Wheeler? Well, Ted will have to spend more time in the private sector than he planned. That, or he’ll decide to make Charlie Hales’ life miserable by running for mayor of Portland.

That may be a show worth watching.

In many respects though, the biggest show for 2016 is one that has not yet gained much attention. Namely, the contest to be Oregon’s next secretary of state.

The secretary of state race is likely to be an open-seat election. The current incumbent, Jeanne Atkins, is a place-holder. Put in the position by former-secretary Kate Brown after she became governor, it’s commonly understood that Atkins is to politely leave office after the current term ends. This, in order to make way for either Democrat Speaker Tina Kotek or Democrat Majority Leader Val Hoyle.

It’s manipulative for sure, but you gotta hand it to Oregon’s Democrat leaders. They start planning political chess-moves for their people at about… well, birth. For four decades now, they’ve won and keep winning their nepotistic-board game. Consequently, for four decades now, Oregon governance has and continues to stumble through partisan mediocrity.

For these reasons, the 2016 election for secretary of state is huge. The job, done correctly, is vital for Oregon business and government oversight. It must be the state’s watchdog. It will also be the position largely-responsible for drawing legislative districts following the next census should the legislature fail to find agreement.

The secretary of state position may be Oregon’s number two political office. But it’s a close second. And for Republicans, Independents, non-affiliated voters, or any Oregonian (including Democrats) looking to rediscover the long-lost concept of balance, the race next year provides a tremendous opportunity.

To win the day Republicans need to nominate, as William F. Buckley use to say, the “rightward-most viable candidate.” In Oregon, this means a Republican candidate who resonates with conservative voters while also speaking to the concerns and aspirations of centrist and urban voters. A tall order, perhaps. But the stakes are too big to get it wrong.

That candidate, and the rest of us, would do well to remember that the office of secretary of state is not about abortion, climate change, same-sex marriage or guns. It is, instead, about business efficiency and support, government accountability, and asuring well-run and above-board elections. It is also about rebuilding trust and objectivity in Salem.

And balance.

That balance will be achieved by a candidate and future secretary who’s not afraid to audit the Salem crowd. That is, someone who will ask the hard questions of governors, legislators and agency-heads. Someone who will be the grown-up in the room, and not so politely-complicit with Salem insiders.

Balance will also be achieved through someone who effectively audits the machinations of government. Someone who’s willing and able to stop the scandals, stop the financial misfeasance, and stop the ruinous and partisan policy-gimmicks that waste the hard-earned money of working Oregonians.

Finally, balance will be achieved by a secretary of state who truly seeks to make elections fair and impartial. Someone who will work to end Oregon’s self-serving method of legislative redistricting. Someone who might, say, propose and work for a constitutional amendment in Oregon. An amendment that makes redistricting non-partisan by finally taking it out of the hands of politicians.

On just about every level, from economic and education performance, to ethics and good-government, Oregon can do better. Much better. When it comes to Oregon’s number two office we can decide to settle for more of the same, or we can finally choose a different path. We can choose a hyper-partisan leader from Oregon’s hyper-partisan legislature, and thus ensure the status quo. Or we can finally choose a grown-up, and a real leader.

The choice is yours, Oregon.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs', yet dutifully commutes to Portland every day where he earns his living in public affairs with Hubbell Communications. 


Related Slideshow: Timeline of Kate Brown’s Life and Political Career

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Brown was born on June 21, 1960 in Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain where her father was serving in the U.S. Air Force, but she grew up mostly in Minnesota. 

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Brown graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.A. in Environmental Conservation. She then went on to earn a degree in environmental law from the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College. 

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Law Career

Before Brown began her legislative career, she worked at Portland State University and worked as an attorney with the Juvenile Rights Project, a non profit in Portland that provides legal services to children and families. 

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House of Reps

Brown began her legislative career in 1991 in the Oregon House of Representatives where she served two terms. 

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Kate Brown was elected to the Oregon Senate in 1996 and two years later was elected Senate Democratic Leader. 

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Senate Majority Leader

In 2004 Kate Brown became the first woman to serve as Oregon's Senate Majority Leader. Brown served until July 2007 when she announced that she would give up her seat in the Oregon Senate to run for Secretary of State. 

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Secretary of State.

On May 20, 2008, Brown won the election for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State and on November 5 she won the general election by a 51-46 percent margin against Republican candidate Rick Dancer.

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Rising Star

In 2009 the Aspen Institute named Brown as one of 24 "Rising Stars" in American politics and awarded her with a Rodel Fellowship

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Personal Life

Brown lives in Portland with her husband Dan Little who she has been married to for almost 20 years and is also a stepmother to  two children. She identifies as bisexual and was America's first openly bisexual statewide officeholder. 

Photo: Brown kissing Storm Large at Basic Rights Oregon's 27th annual Dinner Auction in 2009. Photo by Byron Beck.

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Cut D.C. Trip Short

On Wednesday, Feb. 11 2015 Brown left is the national conference for the Association of Secretaries of State in Washington D.C. two days early.

The 2015 Winter Conference runs from February 10-13, 2015, and draws top state officials from around the country.

Brown's spokesperson, Tony Green, confirmed she is on her way back to Oregon, and that her return is ahead of schedule. 

According to multiple sources at the highest level of State Government, her return is tied to a potential resignation by the embattled Governor John Kitzhaber.

Photo: Kate Brown with Peter Johnson (left) and George Vranas (right).

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Governor of Oregon

Governor John Kitzhaber released a statement Friday, Feb. 13 announcing his resignation.

Kate Brown will now serve as the Governor until the next general biennial election. A new governor can be elected in 2016. 

Kate Brown will be the second female Governor of Oregon. 

Photo Credit: Kate Brown with Dianne Lin by Byron Beck


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