Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who defied a blue wave to become the first Republican elected to statewide office in 14 years, died of brain cancer Tuesday night. He was 69.
A former trial lawyer and conservative Mormon grandfather of 31 from Central Point, at the southern end of the state, Richardson served six terms in the Oregon Legislature and unsuccessfully challenged then-Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2014. Two years later, Richardson defeated then-Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian to become secretary of state—a close, bitter contest that tested the limits of Democratic power in Oregon.
In two years in office, Richardson has concentrated on his specialty—tough audits. These have included scathing appraisals of the state's broken foster-care system, Portland Public Schools, and the recreational cannabis market.
The audits often placed Richardson at odds with Salem's largely Democratic power structure.
Last June, Richardson announced he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. His struggle with the disease visibly taxed him, and much of the winter was spent wrangling with Democrats about whether some of his duties could be farmed out to subordinates.
Richardson's office announced his death today. They said he died at his home around 9 pm, surrounded by family at his home in Central Point.
"Dennis leaves a legacy of always aiming high, expecting excellence, moving fast, and doing what is right for the people," his office said in a statement. "If you spent time with Dennis, it wouldn't be long before he shared with you his personal motto of "Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus," which means: Having been given much, what will you give in return? This philosophy influenced every aspect of Dennis' life and became the hallmark by which many knew him."
Richardson, who flew helicopters in Vietnam, had an unusual political profile for a successful state-wide candidate in a blue state: he was a Mormon and socially very conservative. Nonetheless, Richardson's integrity, sunny personality and dedication to fiscally responsible, good government won voters' support.
"Oregon lost a shining light in Secretary Richardson, whose commitment to the three principles of Accountability, Transparency, and Integrity in state government were unparalleled in anyone with whom I've ever served in public office," former state Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn) said in a statement. "In two years as our Secretary of State, he kept every campaign promise he made, proving Republicans have leadership solutions that work, and that elected officials should strive to do their work for all Oregonians, not just a political party."