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Q & A with Dennis Richardson, Oregon Secretary of State
Can you tell Oregonians about your health? Will you be able to serve out your term or possibly run for reelection?
I have a small tumor that was discovered in May of this year. It is not growing, which means my treatment is working well. The doctors are very optimistic, as am I.
My plans have not changed. For decades, I have been fighting and will continue to fight for transparency, accountability and integrity in state government.
Two years ago, with God’s help and a significant majority of Oregon voters, I won election to become Oregon’s 26th secretary of state. With God’s help, I’ll complete this term in office, and with the voters’ help, I’ll win reelection. My 2020 campaign engine is fired up and moving forward. In fact, last week I sent my first fundraising letter for the 2020 election.
Can you update us on the work of the secretary of state’s office? How has the office functioned while you’ve been battling cancer?
Since you’re asking me to toot my own horn, I’ll take the opportunity. The work of the secretary of state is not only humming along, it is exceeding anything that I’ve seen any other administration do. I believe three important characteristics of a good leader are: 1) choosing the right people and then letting them do their jobs; 2) knowing what risks to take and when to adapt; and 3) taking responsibility.
The leadership team I have in place at the Office of Secretary of State are the most skilled and dedicated professionals I have ever worked with. One of the things I appreciate most about my staff is that none of them are afraid to tell the boss the truth. When I have the right information, the right things happen.
Since I’ve taken office, we’ve won national recognition on a number of fronts.
Our Archives Division has instituted the Oregon Kid Governor program that gives all 5th graders the opportunity to vote in a real, statewide election, and we just elected our second kid governor, Erikka Baldwin of Eugene. We raised over $100,000 (non-taxpayer dollars) to restore our physical Oregon Constitution and protect it for generations to come. We’ve had numerous exhibits, including the award-winning “Black in Oregon.” And our electronic application, Oregon Records Management System (ORMS), is the first of its kind in the world. ORMS houses more than 11 million records with 4.5 million available for public access, and 60-plus Oregon state and local government agencies are using the system, as well as three other states.
The Audits Division has won several national awards and been mentioned in congressional testimony as a standout state audits division. My office’s 70 professional auditors are digging deep, finding flaws and best practices in state government and bringing them to light. We don’t just conduct audits and put them on a shelf to collect dust. We let the people know what we’ve found; we hold press conferences and announce the release of every audit to the media. We provide corrective recommendations to agencies and have instituted a follow-up reporting procedure where we return to the agencies we have audited to see how they are implementing the corrective actions we recommended. We then report to the people what progress is being made.
Our Elections Division is showing the rest of the nation how elections should be run with state-of-the-art security and processes to protect our elections and Oregon voters’ information. National organization and news outlets are calling to discuss how we run our elections and using us as the example of “how it’s done.”
Our Corporations Division is helping more small businesses than ever before, which is making our economy better. Their website is one of the best and most user friendly out of all 50 states. And we have a new video training program for those who want to start a business.
Our office is leading the way on so many fronts from cloud computing to the new e-procurement system “OregonBuys.” Our three support divisions, Business Services, Information Systems and Human Resources, are also state leaders in their areas of expertise. Our Business Services team created an online “checkbook” where they post detailed information about how we spend the taxpayer money entrusted to us – and we update the online checkbook each and every month! Our IT shop has created a state-of-the-art Network Operations Security Center (NOSC) where we monitor our IT security in real time. Other state agencies are touring our facility to learn how they, too, can up their IT security games. Our HR Division is the first in the state to have completed the governor’s Pay Equity review, and now all secretary of state employees’ pay has been adjusted for equity and fairness.
We are one of the smallest agencies, but our 225 employees are doing more with less and are the best and brightest in all of Oregon government.
While I have cut back on some of my personal appearances, the business of the Office of Secretary of State has not slowed down in the least. In fact, we have stepped up our efforts to serve Oregon. Here are some of the accomplishments of my office since my diagnosis in May:
20-plus audits and reports released
Successful statewide general election
Successful Oregon Kid Governor election
Instituted enhanced elections security and sustainability measures
Historical exhibit of Oregon’s state fairs
Enhanced and updated public records request process
Multiple citizen and state employee trainings across the state
Business of Diversity outreach program for veterans
New outreach program to expand voting rights starring celebrities in public service announcements
New video educational programs for entrepreneurs and voters
New tribal relations program
New languages launched on our website for voter registration
New mobile phone voter registration
What audits do you have coming out in the next few months?
These are the audits and reports to be released between now and the fall of 2019:
Department of Transportation Fuels Follow-Up Report
Department of Administrative Services - Data Center Controls Audit (DAS IT Procurement Audit)
Department of Education Portland Public Schools - Administration of State Grant and General Fund Allocations Audit
Department of Revenue - Governance and Culture Audit and Cybersecurity Controls Assessment
Department of Human Services Aging Follow-Up Report
Department of Transportation - Columbia River Gorge Commission Financial Audit (Interstate Agreement)
Multi-Agency Marijuana Regulation Audit
Department of Education Graduation Rates Follow-Up Report
Department of Education Alternative Education Recommendations Follow-Up Report
Department of Transportation Columbia River Crossing Audit
Health Authority Improper Medicaid Payments Follow-Up Report
Health Authority/Department of Education - Childcare Investigation Audit
Department of Administrative Services - Agency Budget Issues Audit
Department of Human Services/Health Authority - Integrated Eligibility IT Audit
Department of Human Services - “Oregon-Kids” IT System and Integrity Audit
Lottery FY18 Financial Statements
State Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR)
FY18 Control Financial Statement – PERS, State Lands
State Financial Condition Report
SWA18 Federal Audits
CRGC FY18 Interstate Agreement
Were you surprised by the margin of Knute Buehler’s defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial election? Because you are the only Republican to win statewide office in 20 years, do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow somewhat dispirited Republicans about the future and the way forward for the Oregon GOP?
Nothing surprises me in politics.
My advice is to look for outside-the-box ways to achieve goals. Listen more and go places you wouldn’t usually go. Understand that being open to learning and growing does not mean you have changed who you are. Representing and getting to know all Oregonians opens doors you didn’t even known were there. It’s not wrong to sit down with people you don’t agree with; in fact, it’s the right thing to do. If you always do the right thing, you’ll always be your best. The most important thing is to run as an Oregonian who will stand up for issues important to the majority Oregon voters.
What are you grateful for this holiday season?
I am thankful for the blessing of my wife Cathy and a wonderful family, the outstanding people I am surrounded by at work, and the joy and laughter all these people bring to my life. Most of all, I’m thankful for my faith in God’s plan.
By Eric Fruits
Oregon’s Middle Class Squeeze: Property Taxes
Last month’s newsletter brought the troubling news that the Great Recession had gutted Oregon’s middle class. Since the recession, high-wage (e.g., professional and business services) and low-wage (e.g., leisure and hospitality) jobs in Oregon have increased from pre-recession highs, while middle-wage jobs (e.g., durable goods manufacturing) have declined throughout the state. With the steep decline — and slow recovery — of middle-wage employment, Oregon household income inequality has worsened since 2007.
This shows up in household income statistics. Census Bureau data shows that from 2012 to 2017, low- and middle-income households have been replaced by high-income households, a phenomenon Joel Kotkin calls the New Feudalism. In the Portland region, the number of households with less than $100,000 in income (the bottom 80 percent of households) has shrunk by more than three percent, while the number of households with more than $100,000 in income (the top 20 percent of households), has increased by more than a third. Middle-wage jobs took the biggest hit in the last recession, with a loss of more than 100,000 jobs, according to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.
State and local affordable housing initiatives have been aimed at helping the bottom quarter of households, who earn much less than the median family income. These programs place a big piece of the burden for funding on struggling middle-income households. For example, Portland and Metro’s affordable housing bond programs promise to provide subsidized housing for low-income residents, while saddling existing homeowners and renters with ever growing property tax bills.
Over the past five years, Multnomah County property tax revenues have increased by more than 40 percent. Sure, property values are rising, so property taxes will, too. But — and this is important — the property tax rate has increased by 15 percent over the past five years. If you had a $300,000 home in 2012, your property taxes have gone up by about $2,200 in the past five years.
As the Metro housing bond kicks in next year, property taxes are going to go up again. Over the next two years, Metro is planning on a $2 billion transportation bond to build light rail out to Bridgeport Village, and Portland Public Schools is on track to put a $1 billion bond on the ballot to “modernize” the district’s schools and cover the overruns on the existing bond projects. If voters approve these measures, Portland-area property taxes will become unbearable.
As if things can’t get any worse, the state legislature has a bunch of ideas to increase property taxes even more. One proposal requires that property taxes are “equitable and fairly apportioned” — someone’s going to get a tax increase, just hope it’s that “other guy.” Another proposal would assess a residential property sold for a million dollars or more at the market value, rather than the assessed value. Yet another would increase the property taxes on business property, which will be a surefire small business killer.
As noted in last month’s newsletter, since the Great Recession, Oregon’s middle class can’t seem to catch a break. Their employment opportunities have shrunk while their local governments and legislators hunt for more and more ways to raise their property taxes. For a state that seems so focused on affordable housing, our policymakers seem to be going out of their way to make it unaffordable for Oregon’s middle class.
They Said It in 2018
The Best Responses to the Oregon Transformation Q & A
"I think the holding of signage that attacks both what people do and people themselves in their workplace can be a very effective form of intimidation depending on the targeted individuals. The toll it took physically was substantial."
- Lucia Martinez Valdivia, Reed College Assistant Professor of English and Humanities
"It took five years to get approval for Bandon Dunes. It took Nekoosa, Wisconsin, five months to get to 'Yes, please start. And what can we do to help?' The same was true with Cabot Links in Nova Scotia.
"Oregon has always been an anti-development state and culture. For years they put up billboards that said, 'Visit, but do not stay.' The thing they fear is unfettered development. That hasn’t changed in the last 30 years."
- Mike Keiser, Golf Developer and Owner of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
"Short term, I expect the unions to have less money to spend on down ballot campaigns, like legislative seats. Long term, our work enforcing Janus will level the playing fields in both Oregon and Washington … There is not a path to expanded freedom and prosperity in the Pacific Northwest that doesn’t include dramatically reducing the power of the union political machine.
"You always hear about the Democratic 'ground game,' which includes an army of activists working the phone banks, knocking on doors, handing out literature, driving voters to the polls, etc. But what you don’t always hear is that a huge number of these people are paid union workers ordered to help by their leadership."
- Tom McCabe, CEO of the Freedom Foundation
"George Soros is interested in Washington County for the same reason he is interested in DA races around the nation – he wants to impose his worldview and values on communities by purchasing the DA."
- Kevin Barton, District Attorney Washington County
"I expect Governor Brown and her allies to run a negative and misleading campaign against me. I will focus on the failed Brown record and my solutions to fix Oregon’s biggest problems."
- Knute Buehler, Republican nominee for Governor
"I believe that we tend to be disingenuous regarding how we in developed countries want others to conduct themselves when it comes to climate issues. On the one hand, we demand that they take action to reduce their emissions and improve air quality, yet we oppose opportunities to provide them with the resources to effect change."
- John Burns, CEO of the Port of Coos Bay
"The rise of the bureaucracy is one of the least understood but frightening aspects of modern American politics, as it places an inordinate amount of power in the hands of the president and/or governor at the expense of the legislature - having unelected boards and commissions make rules that have the same force and effect as bills created by the legislature."
- Dave Hunnicutt, President of Oregonians In Action
"The partisanship in the nomination and confirmation process has led to a perception on the part of the public and the press that the courts are partisan in their decision making. While I think the perception has some justification, I also believe that most federal judges most of the time do not act in a partisan way … But on matters of political and social controversy, it is all too predictable how the justices of the Supreme Court will rule.
"That Trump presented the opportunity to Leonard and the Federal Society may be a reflection of Trump’s recognition that, but for the judicial appointments power of the president, he would probably have lost the election. When I challenged many of my Republican friends and associates to explain why they were supporting Trump, almost to a person they said because of the courts."
- Jim Huffman, Emeritus Dean and Professor of Law, Lewis and Clark Law School
"This is a very tough job, make no mistake about it – your questions prove it.
"When I drove past the demonstrations, I didn’t see any mob. I saw families with kids, I saw faith leaders, I saw engaged citizens. People were standing around holding signs – and exercising their First Amendment rights."
- Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland
"The question that I received was itself a racist question, implying that because I come from a background of 'white privilege' I am unable to represent the position of African-Americans on the housing issues. Our director of housing in Washington County, a man I admire, is himself of color. Yet he is unbiased in his positions and looks at the issue from an economic rather than racial perspective.
"Too many elected leaders are 'true believers' in the utopia of a tight urban form. While the UGB has some benefits (farmland protections, open spaces, walkability), it also has some serious negative consequences (housing costs, congestion, higher cost of infrastructure, no backyards to play in). There are those who choose to ignore that land inside the UGB can sell for as much as a million dollars an acre, while land adjacent to it on the other side of the boundary sells for $15 thousand an acre."
- Andy Duyck, Board Chairman, Washington County Commissioners
"The single-party agenda that is being discussed by Democrats for the upcoming session will have a direct impact on Oregonians. New taxes will hit low-income, fixed-income and rural Oregonians the hardest with higher energy and transportation costs – and, of course, rising costs for health care impact all of us.
"Every time an Oregonian gets into their car, they will feel the effects of this majority’s agenda with higher gas taxes, higher registration fees and in just a few years – tolling."
- Christine Drazan, Republican member elect, Oregon House of Representatives, District 39 (Canby)
"We need to understand in a state where the 'majority party' is non-affiliated voters (NAVs) that name recognition is going to be the single most important thing that we should be focused on. While this may sound simplistic, I think we overlook it far too often. It’s easy for those of us in the business of politics to lose perspective on this basic fact of getting elected.
"In addition to not doing enough to help our bench develop statewide recognition, we give up too soon. Hatfield, McCall and Atiyeh all had unsuccessful runs mixed in with their successful campaigns. All were willing to make the personal sacrifices, including building name recognition, and then come back after a loss to earn election by the people."
- Kim Wallan, Republican member-elect, Oregon House of Representatives, District 6 (Medford)
"We are one of the smallest agencies, but our 225 employees are doing more with less and are the best and brightest in all of Oregon government.
"While I have cut back on some of my personal appearances, the business of the Office of Secretary of State has not slowed down in the least. In fact, we have stepped up our efforts to serve Oregon."
- Dennis Richardson, Oregon Secretary of State