Each of the three major Democratic contenders for the Oregon secretary of state's office displays qualities needed to be successful in this significant office.

Firebrand state Sen. Vicki Walker of Eugene has the fearlessness to take on anyone in state government - she'd be perfect leading the secretary of state's Audits Division, which is charged with protecting the public interest in government.

Sen. Kate Brown of Southeast Portland has significant political experience - 16 years in the legislative trenches plus leadership credentials that come from having served 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 really should be nonpartisan.

While each candidate has very desirable qualities, we believe Metsger comes closest to being representative of all of Oregon. Democratic primary voters should choose carefully in this race. Whoever prevails in the primary is likely to win against an inexperienced Republican opponent in the fall.

The secretary of state is the second-highest-ranking position in Oregon government. If anything happened to the governor, the secretary of state would take over. That's a prospect that should help voters decide whom they favor.

All three candidates emphasize their bipartisan credentials. They do so, in part, because the next secretary of state 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 weakness. 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.

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 nonpartisan.

But Metsger's real advantage is his steady support for investing in the state's economy and sustainable economic development and his understanding of Oregon as a whole. In a race where all three candidates have admirable traits, we recommend that voters choose Sen. Rick Metsger.

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