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Salem — In Oregon, the secretary of state functions as the state’s chief elections officer, auditor and archivist.

That has not stopped candidates for secretary of state, particularly Democrats, from competing for endorsements from special interest groups focused on policy issues from abortion, to the environment and labor. 

Democratic candidate Brad Avakian, the state’s labor commissioner, has so far lined up the longest list of endorsements including NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon PAC, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and roughly two dozen public and private sector labor groups.

“I’m the progressive in the race, and they realize that,” Avakian said of the organizations that endorsed him in the May 17 primary. “Those groups do recognize that the secretary of state’s office plays a role in each of those issues.”

So what can these interest groups hope to gain from a secretary of state who agrees with them politically? The secretary of state is next in line to be governor, a fact that seemed like political trivia until last year, when then-Secretary of State Kate Brown replaced Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber resigned amid an influence peddling scandal.

It’s unclear what other motivations groups might have, because most candidates would not release the questionnaires they filled out in order to win the organizations’ endorsements. However, Democratic candidate Richard Devlin, a state senator from Tualatin, said there is the potential to politicize the office that oversees elections.

“I think you have to lead to some degree and step back from your party identity in those positions because if it’s ever viewed as the decisions you’re making are partisan, the public is going to have considerably less respect than they do now for the process,” Devlin said. 

All of the candidates have said they would increase government transparency as secretary of state, but none of them, with the exception of Republican Sid Leiken, would provide copies of the questionnaires they had filled out for interest groups.

Candidates for Portland mayor HYPERLINK "" have released the questionnaires, including from HYPERLINK "" at least one of the groups that endorsed Avakian.

Leiken’s campaign provided a link to the online questionnaire he completed for the HYPERLINK "" Oregon Abigail Adams Voter Education Project, but declined to release others including the questionnaire that earned him an endorsement by Oregon Right to Life. Republican Dennis Richardson did not respond to calls and has not listed endorsements by any groups. Paul Damian, a candidate for the Independent Party of Oregon, does not list any endorsements on his website and did not respond to a call for comment.

Avakian said he earned the endorsements because of his platform to dramatically expand the role of the secretary of state. For example, Avakian wants to use the secretary of state’s position on the three-member State Land Board to push for solar, wind and geothermal power projects on land held by the state’s Common School Fund.

Auditors in the Secretary of State’s Office function as watchdogs to make sure government programs function as intended and serve the public. Avakian wants those auditors to begin investigating, on a complaint-driven basis, whether more than 4,000 contractors who work for the state are complying with equal pay, minimum wage and prevailing wage laws.

State Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, said through its role in the initiative process the office has a broad and more direct impact on issues important to the interest groups endorsing candidates.

Although the Oregon Department of Justice writes ballot measure titles, Hoyle said it is still up to the secretary of state to decide whether to certify the title.

One group that endorsed Avakian, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, also has an interest in how the secretary of state handles the initiative process.

The group is tied to the politically active nonprofit Renew Oregon — OLCV executive director Doug Moore is also secretary of Renew Oregon, according to corporation records — which filed four initiatives last year to create new renewable energy mandates and phase out coal power.

Devlin said interest groups also asked him how he would oversee elections as secretary of state. He confirmed at least one group asked how he would handle questions about whether a ballot measure met the requirement that it contain only one issue or subject.

“That is one of the few determinations the secretary of state can actually make about ballot measures,” Devlin said. 

Hoyle said groups also have an interest in how the secretary of state evaluates signatures gathered to place measures on the ballot. “They ensure that those signatures are collected legally and appropriately,” Hoyle said.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group. Hillary Borrud can be reached at 503-364-4431 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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