ENDORSEMENT: Secretary of state: Buehler
It’s time for a change in pivotal statewide office
Published: October 14, 2012 12:00AM,Today
Oregonians haven’t put a Republican in the secretary of state’s office since Norma Paulus was elected in 1980. Based on Democrat Kate Brown’s inconsistent performance in this important job, voters should replace her with GOP challenger Knute Buehler.
Republicans have often failed to field impressive candidates for statewide office in recent years. Buehler, a 48-year-old orthopedic surgeon from Bend and a former Rhodes scholar, is an exception. He is an ambitious, über-smart candidate — and a throwback to the moderate, pragmatic Republican Party that once produced iconic leaders such as Mark Hatfield and Tom McCall.
Brown, a 51-year-old lawyer who served 17 years in the Legislature before winning election as secretary of state four years ago, cites her extensive experience in state government. She questions her challenger’s qualifications, saying he has spent “not one minute” in public office.
Brown is right about that. And she is right that Oregonians should take a hard look at candidates’ ability to serve as the state’s chief elections officer, auditor, archivist and corporate registrar — and to be first in line to fill the governor’s office should it become vacant.
But Buehler’s résumé is hardly a blank sheet. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he is a managing partner of a surgical practice that has 180 employees and more than $35 million in annual revenue. He sits on the board of the St. Charles Health System, one of central Oregon’s largest employers.
Nor is Buehler lacking in political experience. He worked in Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential campaign. He helped write a 1994 state ballot measure that reformed campaign finance laws, and worked to qualify open-primary ballot measures for the ballot in 2006 and 2008.
Buehler wants to encourage economic development in Oregon by transforming the corporations division into an office that helps businesses navigate the state’s regulatory maze and recommends improvements in that system to the Legislature. Brown has a similar plan, but Buehler is more emphatic and enthusiastic about the need to improve the state’s business climate.
In the field of campaign finance, Buehler wants to increase the transparency of independent expenditures that occur outside campaigns and create a system of voluntary spending limits that includes penalties for violations. Brown supports legislation requiring candidates to report contributions and expenditures within 48 hours in the final weeks of campaigns. She also want to push for federal-style campaign limits in Oregon, a change she acknowledges would require a constitutional amendment.
The candidates differ on how to increase voter access to primary elections. Buehler wants to create primary ballots for qualified minor parties and encourage the major parties to open their primaries. Brown would continue to urge parties to open their primaries to non-affiliated voters, which she has done to date with only mixed success.
The candidates also differ on legislative redistricting rules, which now requires the secretary of state to step in if lawmakers fail to approve a plan. Brown wants to keep the current system, while Buehler would seek to shift the secretary of state’s redistricting role to an independent commission. Buehler’s proposal suggests an encouraging willingness to surrender a powerful function of the secretary of state’s office in the interest of reducing the potential for partisan redistricting — or, more commonly, the perception of partisanship.
Buehler is also interested in changing the secretary of state’s role in succession. He likes a proposal made by former Secretary of State Phil Keisling to have the secretary serve as an acting governor until a special election could be held. Brown prefers the current system of succession. Here again, Buehler’s position speaks well of his willingness to put Oregonians’ interests above his own.
The challenger says he would use the “bully pulpit” of the secretary’s office to argue for broader government reform, most notably changes to the Public Employees Retirement System. Brown says she would continue to address the need for campaign finance reform and improvements to the state’s foster-care system.
Buehler has been critical of Brown’s oversight of the elections division. The office has had some high-profile problems, including the last-minute shift of the election for commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries to the fall, a decision Brown acknowledges involved too little consultation with the candidates. Buehler contends the decision was politically motivated, which Brown denies. But even if she is right, such mistakes have eroded public trust in the state’s election system.
Buehler is on shaky ground in his criticism of Brown’s oversight of the secretary of state’s audits division. The challenger wants a more muscular auditing division that keeps a closer eye on not only state agencies, but local governments. But it’s hard to fault the incumbent’s oversight of the audits division, which during Brown’s first term identified more than $180 million in savings.
Two other candidates are in the race — Pacific Green Party candidate Seth Woolley and Progressive Party candidate Robert Wolfe — but the real contest is between Brown and Buehler.
Oregonians should elect Knute Buehler secretary of state. He’s the kind of Republican Oregonians have been waiting for.