On Feb. 18, 2015, Kate Brown, then Oregon secretary of state, abruptly took over from the longest-serving governor in Oregon's history, John Kitzhaber.
No one expected Kitzhaber to quit—especially not in the swirl of disgrace he brought on himself by failing to check the actions of his first lady, Cylvia Hayes. But that influence-peddling scandal brought him low in just five months following WW's first report on Hayes' consulting contracts.
Although Brown, 56, had served in the Legislature for 17 years and been the state's second-highest-ranking official for another six, it's difficult to overstate what a quantum expansion in responsibility the governor's job meant for her.
She took office with a legislative session already in progress and had to move forward with Kitzhaber's budget, his staff and his legacy: bruising litigation with Oracle Inc. over the failed insurance exchange Cover Oregon, a cold war heating up between business and labor, and a state skeptical of Democrats' commitment to ethical governance.
Brown stumbled in that first session, botching a transportation funding package. She fared far better in 2016's short session, helping lawmakers pass ambitious legislation that raised Oregon's minimum wage and expanded its commitment to clean energy.
Former Gov. Kulongoski once said the difference between him and Kitzhaber, whom he succeeded in 2003, was that Kulongoski liked people. Brown could point to the same distinction between her and the man she succeeded. She is sunny—perhaps to a fault. In less than two years, she's managed to thaw a state Capitol frozen in hostilities and disgrace. Her humanity has extended to the populist causes she's championed: She's expanded the state's voter rolls with automatic registration, and brokered a tiered minimum wage that is likely to be a boon for working Oregonians. And there's no denying the meaning that the nation's first bisexual governor carries for the state's LGBTQ people.
But her positivity has often meant refusing to face unpleasant facts. Her reluctance to tell people what they don't want to hear explains her tardiness in taking a position on Measure 97, the $3 billion corporate tax hike that unions launched against big business. (She waffled for two months, then issued a tepid endorsement.)
Brown either lacks a sweeping agenda or is afraid to tell Oregon what it is, beyond platitudes about raising graduation rates, increasing transportation funding and helping small business. That's small beer, not the markings of vision and true leadership.
Fortunately for Brown, her only competition comes from Dr. Bud Pierce, 59, an earnest Salem oncologist, who, like other neophyte candidates who've succeeded financially (he owns three clinics), assumes that politics, unlike any other profession, requires no experience.
As head of the Oregon Medical Association, he did forge a compromise with trial lawyers over liability limits. He's unquestionably smart, accomplished and in the race because he wants to help Oregon. But he's an uninspiring speaker, lacks connection to the GOP donor base and appears to have been largely written off by what passes for the Republican Party of Oregon these days.
He struggles to connect basic dots: Although running as a moderate, he stuck to his endorsement of Donald Trump until mid-September, and only belatedly realized the disconnect. He made the astonishing gaffe of declaring this month in a public debate that educated women are rarely victims of domestic violence—a claim that manages to be offensive, untrue and harmful.
Cliff Thomason, a hemp farmer from Josephine County, is running on the Independent ticket. He's the candidate we'd most like to smoke a joint with, but like Libertarian James Foster and Aaron Auer of the Constitution Party, he'd be better off running for local office.
Brown wins this race by default. But sooner or later, she's going to need to prove herself ready for something more.
What reality show would Brown compete on? So You Think You Can Dance.
Secretary of State
We hate this race.
Let's make that clear from the start. Voters face an unpalatable choice: A candidate who's said unacceptable things against an opponent who frightens us.
We're endorsing Dennis Richardson. That's a difficult decision for a newspaper that believes in civil rights and reproductive choice. In the past, Richardson, 67, has expressed ideas about both topics in newsletters, legislation and speeches that we find abhorrent: He once compared same-sex marriage to a mass shooting, voted against public funding for emergency contraception, and even opposed sex ed in schools.
We declined to endorse him in 2014, when he was the Republican nominee for governor—even though he was challenging incumbent Gov. John Kitzhaber, whose scruples were in question. But Richardson's not running for a policymaking position this time. The secretary of state is an administrator, who oversees elections, audits, the corporation division (which registers businesses) and the state archives. The secretary of state does not make or enforce laws and has nothing to do with civil rights. The office calls for integrity, attention to detail and a desire to focus the state auditor on improving government.
Those attributes are in Richardson's wheelhouse. In six terms in the House, Richardson earned a reputation for diligence, skepticism and detail—he was co-chairman of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state's budget. He was among the first to sound the alarm about Cover Oregon, the failed $300 million health care exchange. A practicing Mormon and former trial lawyer who is the father of eight daughters and flew helicopters in the Vietnam War, Richardson comes from a background different from the Democrats, who hold every statewide office, and he's beholden to none of the special interests that rule the state.
The race features several other candidates, but none makes a strong case. Sharon Durbin, a retired lawyer, is running on the Libertarian Party ticket, while Paul Damian Wells represents the Independent Party. Pacific Green Party nominee Alan Zundel, a counselor and former political science professor, makes a compelling argument for why the current partisan primary system contributes to polarization, but his advocacy for ranked-choice voting will be a tough sell in Oregon.
An end to Democrats' monopoly on statewide offices could serve voters well, particularly in the case of the Democratic nominee, current Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. A former lawmaker from Washington County, Avakian, 55, was appointed to his current post in 2009. When he sought an open congressional seat in 2011, WW revealed he'd failed in the past to pay property and income taxes and his bills, including his Oregon State Bar dues.
Those lapses bother us less today than the impression that, perhaps more than any candidate in Oregon, he will do or say anything to advance his political career.
In this race, he's promised to use the Secretary of State's Office to defend access to abortions, create green jobs, promote sustainable energy, audit private corporations and bring civics education back to public schools. Every one of those aims is laudable. None of them has much to do with the job Avakian's seeking. That leaves two possibilities: Avakian doesn't respect the parameters of the office, or his mouth is cynically writing checks he knows he can't cash in order to win endorsements and votes.
Many longtime WW readers may blanch at our choice in this race. Our rationale: Integrity matters. Based on that criterion, there's no contest.
What reality show would Richardson compete on? Survivor, because he enjoys building alliances.
The State Treasurer's Office is a little bit like the innards of your cellphone: It does important, complicated work that's largely invisible and difficult to understand. The treasurer—currently Ted Wheeler, who's moving on to become Portland mayor—is the state's banker, overseeing its borrowing needs, guarding its credit rating and serving as one of five members of the Oregon Investment Council, which oversees $90 billion in pension and other funds.
Oregon enjoys a strong credit rating—AA+, nearly the highest—which means our borrowing costs are low. The OIC's investment results also compare favorably to other states'. That speaks well of Wheeler's management.
But the place Wheeler has fallen short—pushing a cost-cutting agenda through the Legislature—is the area in which state Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) shines.
Lawmakers took pleasure in regularly defeating the ambitions of Wheeler, a wealthy and politically awkward Portlander who never served as one of them. Read, in contrast, is a Labrador retriever of a lawmaker (he's served five terms) who loves Salem so much he gave up his job at Nike to focus on caucus leadership positions and interim session work groups. Read, 41, worked briefly for a U.S. Treasury secretary and has an MBA, but his strongest credential is his legislative experience. He's an easy pick in this race.
Jeff Gudman, an investor and Lake Oswego city councilor, is the Republican nominee. He brings neither big-time investment experience nor the political chops that could elevate him over Read. Former state Sen. Chris Telfer (R-Bend) is running as an Independent. She's nobody's fool, but she lacks Read's political skills.
What reality show would Read compete on? Running Wild With Bear Grylls.