FONT & AUDIO
Secretary of state wants to make office nonpartisan
SALEM — Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the first Republican to hold the office since 1985, wants to make his position nonpartisan.
Richardson is also proposing that his office, which oversees the state's audits and elections, no longer have the power to initiate investigations of elections violations, moving instead toward an external complaint-driven process.
Both proposals are being drafted and are not currently publicly available as formal legislative concepts, but Richardson discussed his plans in public hearings with legislators Tuesday.
They come on the heels of Richardson's heated election contest against Democrat Brad Avakian.
Richardson claimed during the campaign that he wanted to run the office in a nonpartisan manner, and maintained Tuesday that the change to a nonpartisan designation would boost public confidence in the office.
Richardson said having complaints drive investigations of elections violations avoids the appearance of partisanship.
He described an alternative process under his proposal similar to the investigation process used by the Oregon State Bar, where there are multiple steps before an investigation formally begins.
"I want to ensure that in this office, we don't have that kind of situation, where a secretary of state can choose who they're going after and who they don't, because it can be used in a partisan way," Richardson said.
It's possible that neither measure would entirely insulate Richardson from complaints of partisanship.
Although Avakian runs a nonpartisan elected office as the state's labor commissioner, he was accused of playing politics with the role when he fined a Gresham bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.
Richardson also plans to promote three other initiatives this legislative session.
Two were proposed by former Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins. One of Atkins' proposals seeks to switch to an online, searchable system for state administrative rules. Richardson said that current law requires the rules be printed, which he contends is unnecessary.
The second of Atkins' proposals would allow nonaffiliated voters to electronically request ballots for parties with open primaries, a move Richardson's office says would improve access to voting for people who aren't registered as members of any political party.
The fifth proposal on Richardson's list of priorities, introduced by State Rep. Jodi Hack, R-Salem, would create an impeachment process for statewide elected officials. The only way to remove officers now is through a recall effort.