Each of the three major Democratic contenders for Oregon Secretary of State displays qualities needed to be successful in this significant office.

State Sen. Vicki Walker of Eugene has the fearlessness to take on anyone - a good fit to lead the office's audits division, which is charged with protecting the public interest in government.

Sen. Kate Brown of Southeast Portland has the benefit of 16 years in the legislative trenches plus invaluable leadership skills honed as the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

And Sen. Rick Metsger of Welches demonstrates a collaborative style and focus on investing in Oregon's economy and future that would serve him well in an office that should be nonpartisan.

While each candidate has very desirable qualities, we believe Metsger comes closest to being representative of all of Oregon.

While the secretary of state isn't the most visible person in Oregon, the second-highest-ranking state official has key roles: the chief elections officer, director of the audits division and, with the governor and state treasurer, a member of the State Land Board.

We don't think Democrats can go wrong in this three-way race. Each candidate understands the job and would bring a new approach to an office ably occupied by Bill Bradbury for the past eight years. All three candidates emphasize their bipartisan credentials. They do so, in part, because the next SoS could be called upon to draw up a legislative redistricting plan following the 2010 census.

In this regard, Brown's biggest accomplishment also may be a liability. She earned her leadership experience first by fighting hard for a Democratic majority in the Senate and then by taking on a high-profile and often partisan role. At the same time, despite taking on this partisan role, Brown remains one of the most admired lawmakers in Salem.

We have fewer worries about Walker's partisan zeal. She is willing to take down anyone suspected of wrongdoing. However, Walker's fiery temperament isn't ideal for the diverse roles of serving as secretary of state. And we have a hard time picturing her a heartbeat away from the governor's office.

Metsger, a former TV journalist and nine-year legislator, offers the best alternative. He has proven his political courage in quieter ways - for example, as a Democrat who voted in 2003 in favor of reforming the Public Employees Retirement System. Metsger also is the only candidate in the race to support making the secretary of state's office a nonpartisan post.

But Metsger's real advantage is his steady support for investing in the state's economy, sustainable economic development and his understanding of Oregon as a whole. A native of the Sandy area, Metsger represents a district that is much like western Washington County, stretching from the orchards of Hood River to the streets of east Portland. As such, Metsger's ear is more finely tuned to the needs of all Oregonians.

In a race where all three candidates have admirable traits, we recommend that voters choose Rick Metsger.

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