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Democratic Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read wants to bring stability to the Secretary of State’s office

After eight years leading the Oregon State Treasury, Tobias Read says he’s ready to provide a steady hand to the secretary of state’s office.

With two political scandals that led to then-Secretary of State Kate Brown becoming governor after John Kitzhaber resigned in 2015, Secretary of State Shemi Fagan to resign last year, and the death of former Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson in 2019, Oregon has had six secretaries of state and two acting secretaries over the past decade. Read, a Beaverton Democrat with a term-limited term as treasurer, claims he is the state’s top choice as an experienced administrator to lead the office that oversees Oregon elections, controls state government and manages state archives.

“We’re at a point where I think the office has suffered from turnover, and there are some really important things coming – campaign finance reform, to possible ranked choice voting, to the disinformation and violence that we’re seeing in other places and to some extent in Oregon,” he said. “We can intervene immediately and restore trust and capacity in that office, and I am well prepared for that.”

Read will face four other Democratic candidates in the primary: state Sen. James Manning of Eugene, retired attorney Jim Crary, inventor Dave Stauffer and retired electrical engineer Paul D. Wells. The Capital Chronicle profiles front-runners Read and Manning and provides answers to written questions from the candidates who responded.

Read represented Beaverton in the State House from 2007 to 2017, when he began his first term as treasurer. He ran for governor in 2022 and came second to the current governor. Tina Kotek in the Democratic primaries.

The secretary of state is first in the line of succession when the governor leaves office — which is how Brown initially became governor. Read said he does not view the office as a stepping stone and that he hopes to serve two full terms as secretary of state because he is driven by a desire to contribute to improving the state.

Although the treasurer and the secretary of state have different responsibilities, he said the functions are ultimately quite similar. Both involve overseeing large teams – 213 full-time employees at the Treasury Department and 242 at the State Department in the current two-year budget cycle – and both roles are supervisors and administrators.

“It’s about how you lead an agency, establish a culture and make sure we hire the kind of people who are committed to that mission and hold them accountable, and that’s what I’ve been doing for over seven years,” Lees said. “At the risk of being a bit weird about it, people have good data about me, my performance and my approach, and I can’t imagine that will change, even if hopefully the office I hold does change.”

By early April, he had visited 24 of Oregon’s 36 county clerks and planned to visit the rest to learn more about how elections work in practice and what challenges they face. Across Oregon and the rest of the U.S., local election officials have pushed back against baseless claims of voter fraud and election misinformation in recent years, spurred on by former President Donald Trump and his allies.

Read thinks there are “relatively cheap” ways to help voters who have lost confidence in elections feel more confident. Washington County, where he lives, is one of several Oregon counties that use BallotTrax to send text messages to registered voters, letting them know when their ballots have been mailed, when they’ve cleared the clerk’s office received and when elections are due to take place. The workers verified the signatures and prepared their ballots for counting. Not all counties use the system because of the cost, and Read said it would be a good investment for the state.

He is also interested in adopting the absentee ballot program being implemented in California’s San Benito County. The program, based on ride-hailing police, offers residents the opportunity to join election workers in collecting ballots from ballot boxes and returning them to election offices.

Oregon has been a national leader in voting access and election turnout for decades, including being the first state in the nation to implement automatic voter registration in 2015 and universal voting by mail in 1998. requiring voters to register three weeks before the election, while neighboring Washington and California have primaries where voters can choose anyone in a race and same-day voter registration is possible.

Same-day registration was allowed in Oregon for a decade, but voters amended the state constitution to ban it after followers of controversial Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh tried to register en masse in 1984 to take over Wasco County government. Read said he didn’t. He sees no chance of changing that law anytime soon, but he is interested in a proposal he heard from a county clerk that would extend the legal deadline for changing party affiliation before a primary.

“Making it easier for people to vote the way they want gives people, especially people who are newly registered and newly arrived to Oregon, a positive experience,” Read said. “It means they are much more likely to continue voting.”

Read also wants to speed up the agency’s investigation into election complaints and says his work handling unclaimed property at the Treasury Department is a model for efficiency. The Legislature transferred control of the state’s unclaimed property program from the Department of State Lands to the Treasury Department in 2019, and Read convinced lawmakers to give him more resources so that state workers proactively pursue the unclaimed property could return people’s claimed money to them without waiting for Oregonians. Many cases were unaware that they had uncashed checks, security deposits, or forgotten bank accounts to file a claim.

He said he has proven during his years as treasurer that he can advocate for the department’s needs, including hiring more employees at the Treasury Department. That experience could be crucial as the secretary of state oversees the transition to campaign finance limits ahead of the 2028 election.

“When I arrived at the Treasury Department, we joked that we were emaciated and looking up to being skinny,” Read said. “So we convinced the Legislature to give us the authority to implement a pretty massive and historic expansion of the Investment Division’s capacity. They did that because we built a solid business and it saved money for the entire state.”

Read doesn’t have any specific programs he wants to audit, though he said anyone he talks to can recommend an audit. What the state really needs, he said, is a clear plan for the audit department that avoids the political focus on assessing risk and vulnerability, especially when it comes to programs that cost the state a lot of money and where lives are at stake. stand game.

by Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle