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Secretary of state hopefuls talk small biz aid, audits

Democratic Party hosts trio of candidates in Washington County

Washington County Democrats at a Saturday forum were advised not to look at policy differences among three candidates seeking their party’s nomination for Oregon secretary of state — because those differences are minimal.

“You have three people who are all qualified to do this job. We are like the opposite of the Republican presidential primary field,” Rep. Val Hoyle of Eugene said, drawing laughter from some of the more than 100 people at the Democratic Party’s SpringFest.

“I assure you that whoever wins this primary, the other two will support (the nominee) wholeheartedly to run against Dennis Richardson,” said Hoyle, referring to one of the leading GOP candidates, who was that party’s 2014 nominee for governor.

Hoyle is competing with two other Democrats who call Washington County home ground: Sen. Richard Devlin of Tualatin and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian of Beaverton, a former legislator himself. The event took place at the Hillsboro Community Senior Center.

In response to questions posed by Rep. Joe Gallegos, D-Hillsboro, the candidates offered similar stances on the use of audits, aid to small businesses, population diversity and ballot measures. All of them, however, said the final say on ballot titles — official summaries — rests with the attorney general and the Oregon Supreme Court.

Next to Multnomah County, Washington County has Oregon’s largest group of registered Democrats, whose total tops 100,000. Only registered Democrats can cast ballots for Democratic nominees in the primary.

The May 17 primaries are wide open because appointed incumbent Jeanne Atkins, who lives in Washington County, is not seeking a full term. Atkins was named by Kate Brown after Brown became governor last year upon the resignation of John Kitzhaber.

Brown is the fourth secretary of state in 60 years to become governor. Mark Hatfield, Tom McCall and Barbara Roberts all advanced via election, and three others ran but lost.

The secretary of state is the chief elections officer, oversees audits and public records, and sits on the State Land Board with the governor and state treasurer. The office includes the state advocate for small business.

Devlin: Most experience

Devlin, 63, has campaigned on his 20 years’ experience in the Legislature, the past six years as Senate chairman of the Legislature’s joint budget committee.

He also was a two-time Senate chairman of the joint audits committee, and as majority leader in 2009-10, was chairman of the Senate committee that deals with elections legislation.

“No other candidate for secretary of state has been as prepared as I am to assume both of those roles” as elections officer and auditor, he said. “It’s important that the person who holds this job is able to function in those two primary responsibilities as effectively as possible.”

Devlin is a former Tualatin city councilor and Metro Council member.

“I believe in government. I do not believe government can do everything, but I believe it can do important things,” he said.

“But to turn that belief into action, particularly in this office, and to give Oregonians the confidence that it can be done, means getting the details right.”

Avakian: Results matter

Avakian, 55, was a civil rights lawyer and a legislator from 2003 until his appointment as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries in 2008 — when he also was running for secretary of state. He has won three statewide elections.

In his current position, Avakian led a coalition to provide money for restarting career and technical education in high schools, advocated recommendations by the Oregon Council on Civil Rights to bring women’s pay up to parity with men, and reclaimed more than $25 million owed to Oregon workers for back pay and discrimination remedies.

“In any election, look not to just what people say they will do, but look at what they have already done,” he said. “I have always turned our progressive values into action. That’s exactly what I will do for you as secretary of state.”

Avakian and Devlin are in the middle of their four-year terms. Hoyle, as a state representative, had to forego a re-election bid.

“But I would just say this: Don’t choose based on geography, or on who’s in what part of their election cycle,” Avakian said. “Pick who you think is going to be the best secretary of state. Pick who you think is going to be the most progressive.”

Hoyle: Downstate appeal

Hoyle, 52, was appointed to a Eugene-area House seat in 2009 and won three times, “being a downstate voice in my caucus and in the Legislature for the people I represent.”

She was majority leader from 2013 to 2015. During the 2015 session, when Democrats had the biggest House majority in six years and she led the relevant House committee, lawmakers passed the nation’s first law making voter registration automatic upon changes in driver records.

Hoyle said her election as secretary of state would put someone from outside the Portland area into statewide office. The other

four are from Portland or its suburbs.

She also said she would be a good partner with Brown, who was Senate Democratic leader for nine years before Brown’s own election as secretary of state in 2008.

“I’ve been in the Legislature and a successful majority leader,” Hoyle said. “I will be able to get things done, give people information, and be independent when it requires being able to stand up to say I see something that needs to be fixed, and let’s work together to make it happen.”