Shemia Fagan

State Sen. Shemia Fagan is the Democratic candidate for Oregon secretary of state.

We’d like to talk about a former secretary of state, Dennis Richardson, before we get into our endorsement of Shemia Fagan for that race in the November election.

Looking back helps remember why the office is important and what to look for.

Richardson set a high standard for how to run the office before his death last year that Bev Clarno has followed. Richardson was as Republican as any Republican, but he set that partisanship aside when he was elected to that role.

Partisanship should not play a role in the secretary of state’s responsibility for overseeing Oregon’s election system and the state archives.

The secretary of state also matters because the office wields a powerful tool of oversight in how state agencies run and spend taxpayer money: the statewide audit.

Richardson’s office drilled down with state audits into agencies and programs, ruffling more than a few feathers. Few audits have resonated as powerfully as the audit during his tenure of the failures of the state’s child foster system run by the Department of Human Services.

Richardson also used his office to publicize findings and hold agencies accountable for what they did to improve.

Both state Sen. Fagan, a Democrat, and state Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Republican, have been partisan politicians. They say they won’t be if elected to this office. We’ll have to wait and see.

Fagan and Thatcher agree on many issues. They’d both like it if Oregon parties opened up primaries. They both say they are fully behind vote by mail. They both say they don’t intend to use the office just as a stepping stone. And they both will use auditing to uncover and solve problems in government.

Fagan has shown a willingness to buck her party’s establishment and do what she believed was right.

She was the lone vote last year against Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, being elected to his ninth term as Senate president. That was after a former employee of Courtney’s testified Courtney disapproved of who she was dating and gave her an ultimatum to resign or be fired.

Fagan has also openly criticized the secret ballots in Senate Democratic caucus meetings that determine if bills make it to the Senate floor. We hope she would similarly be independent of her party as secretary of state.

Thatcher has been a strong advocate for public disclosure of government records and has done so much more.

But we have two concerns that tipped the decision for us to Fagan. Thatcher was willing to essentially help her fellow Republicans shut down the state Legislature to prevent the Democratic cap-and-trade bill from moving forward. We understand why Republicans felt they had to walk out to stop the bill. It does make us wonder how much disruption of state government Thatcher would be willing to indulge in if she does not get her way as secretary of state.

Second, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Tracy Prall in 2010 ruled that a company owned by Thatcher intentionally destroyed a hard drive and intentionally deleted other accounting records to avoid turning them over during an investigation of contracting fraud. That’s at least unnerving for a person we would trust to audit government agencies.

We recommend a vote for Fagan.

One final thing to consider. In Oregon, we don’t have a lieutenant governor who takes over if the governor leaves office. The secretary of state does. So when you vote in this race, think about that, too.