It's unusual to see a statewide elected official take to social media to fight with the state's largest newspaper. But that's what Secretary of State Kate Brown, Oregon's top elections officer, did this week.
On Tuesday, The Oregonian's editorial page (which won a Pulitzer Prize the day before for for its work on public employee pensions) weighed in on the results of a lawsuit over a vote to disincorporate the city of Damascus. The proponents of disincorporation sued after they failed to get approval from a majority of all those eligible to vote, arguing that a simple majority of those who voted should be enough.
The O criticized Brown for not providing advice on how the election should be conducted.
Let’s say you’re the secretary of state, Oregon’s chief elections officer, and a small city facing a high-stakes vote asks you to shed some light on a pivotal matter of law. Do you act like the alpha dog in the election pack and give the advice requested, or do you curl up in a ball and take a nap because providing guidance in that specific circumstance isn’t your job? We ask because the Secretary of State’s Office, when placed in this position by the city of Damascus last year, hit the snooze button. It seems to us there’s a good deal of gray area here – enough, anyway, to justify a response to the city’s plea for guidance.The paper wrote, concluding:
The election might have been contested regardless of how the city chose to define “elector,” but there’s much to be said for a chief elections officer who, when in doubt, chooses to help rather than to hide.
The judge agreed with our position that the Secretary of State had no legal authority to get involved in the meaning of a statute that applied only to a local election. The judge then dismissed us from the case. Despite the court vindication, The Oregonian editorial board came out and slammed me for my position. After 20 years of public service, I'm used to name-calling and personal jabs from the editorial board. But this editorial concerned me. It seemed like it was written with the sole purpose of riling up readers -- at the expense of an honest discussion of the issues. It was disappointing. We need a strong newspaper of record to help inform Oregonians about the important issues of the day. I'm not ready to give up on The Oregonian just yet. Remember, this is the paper that once editorialized against statehood and women's suffrage. They eventually came around on those issues. Here's hoping they can turn the corner once again.