Sen. Mark Hass earns 'yes' vote for Secretary of State
Before we endorse state Sen. Mark Hass as Oregon Secretary of State — and we will — let us first talk about what the three Democratic candidates have in common.
Hass, of Beaverton, state Sen. Shemia Fagan of Happy Valley and Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne all would fight for expanding voter participation; for beefed-up election security; for robust audits. All would apply an equity lens to the office. All would be in a position, post the COVID-19 pandemic, to look back at how well or how poorly Oregon responded to the worldwide crisis.
If those are the issues that drive voters in this race, then a vote for Hass, Fagan or McLeod-Skinner would be warranted. And indeed, all three are impressive.
But if the last decade has taught us anything, it's that the Oregon Secretary of State's Office is, de facto, the heir presumptive of the governorship. When Gov. John Kitzhaber was forced to step down amid scandal, Secretary of State Kate Brown received the nod to move up. Oregon is one of five states without a lieutenant governor. Of the 12 secretaries of state going back to Mark Hatfield more than 60 years ago, four have become governor (and four more ran for governor).
In past Secretary of State races, we likely gave short shrift to the issue of potential ability to serve as governor.
Of the three Democrats running, Mark Hass is best suited to make the jump to governor, if need be.
(And if Joe Biden wins the presidential race this November, would Brown be an attractive nominee for any number of Cabinet offices? Of course she would, making this facet of the Secretary of State race far more than merely academic.)
Hass, 64, was a TV news reporter for two decades until he was elected to the House in 2000 and, after a brief break, appointed to the Senate in 2007.
He has sat on the House and Senate tax committees during his tenure, which covered the recessions of 2002 and 2007-10, and has led the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee since 2015. He played a leadership role in the creation of Oregon's two main reserve funds, which now total just under $3 billion.
He also was a leading advocate of full-day kindergarten in the state and the Oregon Promise for almost-free community college for high school graduates — both were funded in 2016 — as well as the Student Success Act last year. The latter is tied to a new corporate activity tax, proceeds from which go into an earmarked fund for school improvement programs.
He also was a chief sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment, subject to voter approval Nov. 3, to allow regulation of campaign contributions and spending as an exception to Oregon's free-expression guarantee.
He has been endorsed by two former secretaries of state, Phil Keisling and Bill Bradbury.
We also want to talk about party independence — being a leader in the party sometimes means bucking the party.
In 2019, the Legislature voted on a bill to reduce the effects of ballooning debt from the state's pension fund, known as the Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS. Almost everyone at the time agreed that the bill would simply nibble around the edges of that debt. Nonetheless, unions made it well known that Democrats voting in favor would be punished.
Hass voted in favor.
Sen. Fagan voted against.
Jump-cut to 2019, when the unions rallied behind State Rep. Jennifer Williamson in her bid to be Secretary of State. When Williamson dropped out of the race unexpectedly, Fagan jumped in with less than two weeks to go before the deadline, catapulted by the full-throated support of those same public employee unions.
Hass has wanted to be Secretary of State for years. He knew that voting "yes" in 2019 would hurt him with a powerful Democratic force. He took the vote anyway.
And that, almost more than anything else, makes him the best candidate to win this race.
Fagan, 38, is young, articulate, impressive, smart and an up-and-comer. She has an abundant reserve of energy, and she'd be a great spokesperson for whichever causes catch her eye. She served on the David Douglas School Board for two years, unseated a Republican in the House in 2012, left office in 2016 to raise her children, and returned two years later after a successful primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Rod Monroe.
That's not a ton of time in office, or in party leadership (she does chair the Senate Committee On Housing and Development).
Hass, on the other hand, sat on the House and Senate tax committees during the recessions of 2002 and 2007-10, which were tough times indeed. He's led the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee since 2015. He helped create Oregon's two main reserve funds, or rainy day accounts, which now total just under $3 billion.
The third candidate, and the least experienced in state government, is Jamie McLeod-Skinner. And we'd venture to say she has the most interesting and potentially empowering history of any candidate for statewide office in decades. McLeod-Skinner, 58, was born in Wisconsin, lived in Tanzania as a child (her mom taught there) and graduated from Ashland High School. She was an environmental planner for the Santa Clara Valley Water District for six years and city manager of Phoenix, Oregon, for five months. She sits on the Jefferson County Education Service District board and, from 2004 through 2012, was an elected member of the Santa Clara City Council. She sits on the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, studied cultural anthropology for a year at Lewis & Clark College, studied agricultural engineering in Arizona, civil engineering at New York's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and earned a master's degree in regional planning from Cornell University. She later gained a law degree from the University of Oregon with a focus on natural resources, water and Indian law.
She also earned the endorsement of former Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins.
This, however, isn't the time to have a Secretary of State, and a potential governor-in-the-wings, with such a steep learning curve of how to get things accomplished in Salem.
Of the Democrats running, Hass is the one with the vastly superior experience in leadership. He showed he can be independent from the powers that be behind the Democratic party. He's shown he can work with Republicans.
Oregon has an embarrassment of riches in this race. Shamia Fagan and Jamie McLeod-Skinner are impressive, to say the least. We hope they stick around and hope that, too, grow into statewide leadership positions.
But in 2020, hands-down, Mark Hass had made the case to continue his leadership for Oregon. He deserves a "yes" vote.
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