Two things happen in Oregon in even-numbered years. We hold a general election, and invasive alien biennial weed species (Lawnsignicus obnoxicus) appear in the Willamette Valley. These weeds first blossomed near Creswell on a local site known as Idiot Hill, for some reason. Suddenly there they were, crowded into their limited ecological niche, a dairy farm. They apparently thrive in cow poop. Four signs of the time: Trump/Pierce/Robinson/Richardson all held up by the same wooden stakes. Birds of a feather flock together.
Trump’s campaign speaks for itself (voluminously). Ditto Republicans Bud Pierce and Art Robinson, running respectively for governor and the 4th congressional district. But why do we care about the Oregon secretary of state race? Why care about Republican Dennis Richardson’s run against Democrat Brad Avakian?
The first question was answered dramatically on Valentine’s Day, 2015, when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned early in his 4th term and was replaced by then-secretary of state Kate Brown, in accordance with the succession plan in the Oregon Constitution. We have no lieutenant governor. The answer to the second question is apparent when you look at the public records of Avakian and Richardson.
Both men were first elected to the Oregon House in 2002, so 2003 was their first legislative session and my last. As a legislator and later as labor commissioner, Brad developed a reputation as a leader on labor issues and women’s rights. He fought for pay equity, an increased minimum wage and paid sick leave for Oregon workers. This included a record settlement against Daimler Trucks due to racial discrimination and harassment of workers.
Avakian is the only secretary of state candidate endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon PAC and Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon. There’s a reason for that: Dennis Richardson led the pro-life charge as a legislator.
Dennis Richardson was an extreme Tea Party guy before there was a Tea Party movement. He first showed up on the Medford political scene taking out a moderate Republican incumbent, Cheryl Walker, in the primary because she had the audacity to co-sponsor a bill requiring insurance companies to provide contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans. Although he didn’t mention it when he ran against Kitzhaber in 2014, pro-life politics was the biggest reason Richardson won his first race.
Richardson also voted against providing funding for programs for victims of domestic abuse, stalking or sexual assault, and against funding for legal representation for domestic violence victims. He once suggested sending undocumented immigrants to private prisons in China and compared gays and lesbians to drug addicts and alcoholics. Dennis was also caught using official government agency lists to gather email addresses of hundreds of thousands of Oregonians to spam them with offensive right-wing propaganda and even ask them for political donations.
One of my favorite moments in my last senate session in 2003 involved Dennis. That 2003 session was the longest in Oregon history. The Senate was tied with 15 Republicans and 15 Democrats, and the House was narrowly controlled by Republicans and by Speaker Karen Minnis. Her husband, Sen. John Minnis, and I were co-chairs of the Senate PERS committee.
With no compromise between chambers, a joint committee of four members was chosen to reach a deal. Co-Senate leaders, Republican Lenn Hannon and Democrat Peter Courtney chose John Minnis and me. Speaker Minnis chose Republicans Tim Knopp and Dennis Richardson. After final negotiations with Gov. Kulongoski’s office, we reached a compromise. With a quick 3-1 vote, Knopp voted with John Minnis and me to move the bill to the floor for a vote. In his freshman arrogance, Richardson continued to argue for a 401K plan for state workers. We started calling him “TIAA Cref.”
With the possible exception of Sen. Gary George, Dennis Richardson was the most supercilious man I ever served with in Salem. To imagine him one heartbeat away from the governorship by virtue of constitutional succession is a scary thought.
My choice for secretary of state in the primary was Val Hoyle. She lost to Brad Avakian.
But Val served with Richardson in the House and with Avakian as labor commissioner: She is an unequivocal Avakian supporter. Records don’t lie.
This is the most important statewide race for progressive Oregonians because of the contrast. This race could have huge consequences for Oregon’s women and workers. Stay tuned.