Oregon SoS Dennis Richardson Dies

[Image via wweek]

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. The Oregonian has his obituary:

Dennis Richardson, the Oregon secretary of state and first Republican elected to the position in three decades, died of brain cancer Tuesday night at age 69.

Richardson was a respected and well-liked statesman, although at times a divisive figure in Oregon politics, who rose through the ranks to become his party’s most successful standard-bearer in more than a generation with his election as secretary of state in 2016. The victory snapped a 16-year losing streak that had kept Republicans from statewide office.

Richardson died at his home in the southern Oregon city of Central Point while with family and friends, Leslie Cummings, the deputy secretary of state, said in an announcement Wednesday.

“Dennis leaves a legacy of always aiming high, expecting excellence, moving fast, and doing what is right for the people,” Cummings’ statement said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to work with such an incredible leader and wonderful friend. He will be greatly missed.”

Gov. Kate Brown ordered flags lowered to half-staff in recognition of Richardson’s death.

“Regardless of what side of the aisle his colleagues sat on, we all knew Dennis’ kind heart guided his career of service to the people of Oregon,” Brown said in a statement.

Oregon’s Governor will appoint Richardson’s successor, and has pledged to appoint another Republican – albeit one who agrees not to stand for election in 2020:

The Oregon Constitution directs the governor to appoint Richardson’s successor. Brown’s statement said she will review candidates “in the coming weeks” and only appoint a Republican who will promise not to run for secretary of state in 2020.

Richardson’s passing marks the end of a cancer battle that began last summer:

Richardson announced in June 2018 that a “small cancerous brain tumor” had been found and said he would begin treatment. Though he was secretive about the exact diagnosis, Richardson said he would do all he could to not let cancer slow his work.

Richardson said he had every intention of running for re-election in 2020, but the disease took its toll. He made fewer public appearances and began attending meetings of the State Land Board, of which he is a member, by speakerphone. Richardson pared back his work hours and announced February 4 that he would scale them back even further.

Soft spoken and physically fit, Richardson was a devout Mormon, father of nine and grandfather of 31, a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War and attorney by trade.

“His first love was God,” said Gene Whisnant, a former Republican state representative from Sunriver who served with Richardson. “His second was family.”

Richardson was married to his second wife, Cathy, for more than 45 years. They had eight daughters, including one adopted out of foster care, in addition to a son from his first marriage.

Richardson’s election to the Secretary’s office in 2016 – despite a good year for Democrats otherwise – was a surprise, but from the beginning he viewed his duties as nonpartisan:

Though he was now Oregon’s highest-ranking Republican, Richardson vowed to approach his new job as a nonpartisan. “As secretary of state, I will be functioning as an Oregonian,” he said during his inaugural address. “It’s my commitment that you will not know whether I have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ behind my name.”

Indeed, one of Richardson’s first proposals in office was a bill to limit his own powers to initiate investigations of candidates for office, an idea his spokesman at the time, Michael Calcagno, said would “depoliticize the office.”

That bill never came to pass, but Richardson instituted other reforms big and small.

He directed his agency’s line-by-line spending be posted online. He simplified audit reports so they could be more easily read by the public. He reinstated thousands of inactive voter accounts. He proposed a nonpartisan commission draw legislative district boundaries. He even publicly rejected Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud — and denied a request by the Trump administration’s voter fraud commission for sensitive data on Oregon electors.

The National Association of Secretaries of State issued this statement:

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is ex­tremely saddened by the death of Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

“I am so sorry to hear of the passing of Secretary Richardson. For the time I knew him, he was a wonderful man and dedicated to doing right for his state,” said NASS President Jim Condos, Vermont Secretary of State. “We have all lost not just a colleague, but also a friend!”

Richardson was elected to the office of Secretary of State in 2016 and became an active member of the NASS Elections, Business Services, State Heritage and Cybersecurity Committees. He was also an incredible advocate for the Kid Governor Program. In part due to his passion, NASS membership agreed to officially partner with the program at our 2019 Winter Conference, in hopes that other states would begin a program of their own.

His life was a shining example of true public service, raising the bar for kindness and non-partisanship among his peers. Our thoughts and hearts are with his family, friends and the people of Oregon.

I echo those thoughts and tip my elections cap to Secretary Richardson’s memory. Thank you for your service, sir – and Godspeed.

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