Former legislator will be new secretary of state in close race

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Republican Dennis Richardson celebrated Tuesday evening in Salem after he won the secretary of state's job in a tight race against Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.SALEM — In the tight race for Oregon Secretary of State, Republican candidate Dennis Richardson appeared close to victory, likely clinching a statewide officee for the Republican Party for the first time in decades.

At about 10:30 p.m., Richardson gave an optimistic speech at a gathering of the Oregon Republican Party in Salem, after The Oregonian/OregonLive called the race in Richardson’s favor.

“It’s a new beginning,” Richardson said. “It’s a new Oregon.”

Richardson maintained that he wanted to run the office in a nonpartisan fashion. He also said he wanted to help businesses to come to Oregon, review the office’s elections division and make the state more accountable and transparent.

The contest for the state’s top auditor and elections official became heated between Richardson and his Democratic opponent, Brad Avakian.

The last Repubilcan Secretary of State in Oregon was Norma Paulus, who served two terms ending in January 1985. Tony Meeker, who was elected treasurer, was the last Republican to hold a statewide state office. His term expired in 1993.

The mood was ebullient at the Republican Party’s election night party, where Chairman Bill Currier addressed the crowd, saying, “You are part of a growing movement.”

Richardson, a former state legislator who ran against former Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2014, served six terms as a state representative from Central Point. Avakian, the state’s labor commissioner, entered the state legislature the same year as Richardson — 2003. Avakian was appointed the nonpartisan head of the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries in 2008.

Backed by a diverse coalition, Avakian attacked Richardson’s conservative record on abortion, gay marriage and immigration.

The labor commissioner also criticized Richardson’s support while in the legislature for stricter voter identification measures.

Richardson, meanwhile, criticized what he and others characterized as Avakian’s over-broad interpretation of the office of secretary of state.

Avakian sought to promote civics education in public schools, audit government agencies to see whether women and men were being paid equally for equal work, and advocate for renewable energy projects on state land.

As the state’s top auditor, Richardson could potentially confront the details of some of the state’s most recent major failures — such as the state’s health insurance exchange, the troubled foster care system and the Columbia River Crossing.

Richardson said Tuesday evening, prior to closure of Oregon ballot drop locations, that he would prioritize audits of the state’s schools and foster care system.

Currier said in remarks at a party gathering in Salem that the performance of Republican candidates in three statewide elections — for governor, secretary of state and treasurer — represented the growing strength and popularity of the party regardless of who won.

“America’s experiencing something called corruption fatigue, and we’re doing something about it,” Currier said.

He later said that the state’s Republican candidates have focused on “transparency, accountability and integrity.”

Kevin Mannix, a former state legislator, gubernatorial candidate and former chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, said before any races were called Tuesday evening that while he was “anxious” about this year’s election, that in future years, he felt that “quiet” Trump supporters in Oregon might start to vote Republican further down the ballot in greater numbers.

“They’re going to have to find ways to work with us,” said Rep. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn, of Democratic legislators.

Three other candidates sought office, but came out behind — Alan Zundel of the Pacific Green Party, Sharon Durbin of the Libertarian Party and Michael Marsh of the Consitutional Party.

Current Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins was appointed to the post in 2015 once her predecessor, Kate Brown, ascended to the governorship after Kitzhaber’s resignation. She did not seek election.

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