A Barnstorming Debate for Secretary of State

Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson may be missing their only window of opportunity this summer to make their case on why each should become Oregon’s next secretary of state – and the person next in line to become governor.

Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson may be missing their only window of opportunity this summer to make their case on why each should become Oregon’s next secretary of state – and the person next in line to become governor.

How quickly we forget that Oregon’s secretary of state is next in line to become governor. Oregon’s sitting governor, Kate Brown, is a case in point. Yet the general election battle for this significant statewide post hasn’t generated even a water fight so far.

A Google search showed no news stories about the race between Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson since election night when each won contested primary fights.

The candidates are undoubtedly busy raising campaign cash, but that doesn’t explain why Avakian and Richardson, who couldn’t be further apart on the political spectrum, haven’t taken their campaigns to the airwaves to earn valuable – and basically free – media coverage.

Avakian, a former legislator and currently Oregon’s Labor Commissioner, and Richardson, a former legislator and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, aren’t shy and retiring personalities. These former trial lawyers seldom hesitate to share their views. This summer may be their only window to talk to and be heard by Oregonians before the sprawling, brawling presidential race overwhelms all else political this fall.

Richardson and Avakian have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain. They certainly have a lot to debate. Richardson is viewed as an arch conservative, while Avakian has projected himself as an all-in progressive. Avakian wants to prosecute polluters. Richardson wants to strip away regulation that he says strangles business growth.

Avakian took flak in the Democratic primary for expressing views on issues that go well beyond the immediate purview of the secretary of state’s office in Oregon, but not necessarily beyond what we expect from a governor. A wider canvass of policy issues wouldn’t be a challenge for Richardson, who campaigned better than most expected against former Governor John Kitzhaber who sought and won an unprecedented fourth term in 2014 before resigning amid a scandal in early 2015.

An early poll suggests Richardson is leading the race against Avakian and Independent Party candidate Paul Damian Wells. In fact, Richardson received 60,000 more votes in the primary than Avakian, though total Democratic votes cast in the primary dwarfed Republican ballots by around 130,000 votes.

There may be some tactical advantage in running a “dark” campaign during the summer, but it isn’t advantageous for Oregonians who would benefit by a round of statewide hot weather debates by the three secretary of state candidates, who could in the blink of an eye wind up as governor. There apparently won’t be gubernatorial debates between Brown and GOP challenger Bud Pierce until the fall, so the coast is clear for Avakian, Richardson and Wells.

It might take some creative staging to draw crowds, like teaming the debate with a summer concert series featuring bands from different parts of the state. The prospect of two major candidates in shirtsleeves barnstorming through Oregon’s warmer summer weather to talk about the future of the state might be a lot more compelling than you think. Political passions are running high, so why not put on a movable political passion play.

Like we said, there is a lot to debate, despite the relatively confined role of secretary of state, but with an officeholder with the potential to play a much bigger, consequential role. And no one could say they didn’t have a chance to see and hear the candidates in the flesh when voting time rolls around in November, which is a real possibility if this race stays invisible.