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Capital Chatter: Richardson begins 2020 re-election effort

A recent fundraising letter tells how he has met his 2016 campaign promises while in office.

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is fundraising for his 2020 re-election campaign, despite battling brain cancer that has kept him away from the State Capitol.

A recent fundraising letter tells how he has met his campaign promises and says, "Even with those amazing accomplishments, those who opposed our campaign in 2016 are gearing up to try to take back the office of Secretary of State in 2020, and we can't let that happen. …

"As you may have read in the media, I continue to serve through all my health issues, and I am prepared to keep serving in office. I am organizing my team for 2020 and the campaign to hold the Secretary of State's office for four more years of good governance starts now."

The letter makes the salient point that Democratic Gov. Kate Brown's re-election campaign ran a masterful operation. Republican Richardson says his campaign knocked on 100,000 doors in 2016; her campaign knocked on 400,000 doors this year.

He adds, "If we're going to be competitive in holding this office and providing the only balance between Republicans and Democrats in 2020, then we need to start building our ground teams across Oregon now."

One reason Republicans have lagged in statewide races is they lack the campaign infrastructure of the Democrats.

On the other hand, Knute Buehler demonstrated how difficult it is for Republicans to win. Despite Buehler's spending nearly twice as much as previous candidates, Brown's margin of victory this fall was similar to past gubernatorial elections and to her defeat of Buehler in the 2012 race for secretary of state.

• Richardson returns to Land Board: The secretary of state attended this week's State Land Board meeting by telephone after previously trying to delegate his authority to his deputy secretary of state. Unsure whether that was constitutional, the board's other two members – Brown and State Treasurer Tobias Read — at the October meeting postponed any votes until the December meeting.

As the Oregon Capital Bureau explained in our news coverage this week, Richardson's staff said he had received verbal advice from the Oregon attorney general disagreeing with his planned delegation of authority.

That resulted in an odd scene on Tuesday. Brown and Read each had an aide sitting with them at their respective tables. No one was at the secretary of state's table. It was empty except for the microphones and nameplates for Richardson and Steve Elzinga, his government and legal affairs director.

In a video released a few days earlier, Richardson explained that his mind is sound but, due to his cancer treatment, his speech sometimes gets in the way. That was evident at Tuesday's meeting. His voice was strong as it came over the speakerphone, but he sometimes had difficulty finishing sentences.

• A massive forest for research: The Land Board voted unanimously to pursue converting the 80,000-acre Elliott State Forest into a research forest overseen by Oregon State University, which has the No. 1 forestry program in North America, according to the Center for World University Rankings.

Several groups expressed interest in running the forest, including tribes, Coos and Douglas counties, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Raw Foundation, which comprises 21 Christian self-supporting ministries in Oregon.

The attorney for the Raw Foundation started his testimony by saying that sometimes a lawyer is asked to tilt at windmills on a client's behalf, and that was what he was doing. The Land Board sought proposals from public entities, which the foundation is not, to take over the forest. The foundation wanted to use the forest for Christian camps as well as public recreation and promised to do as little logging as possible.

Treasurer Read originated the idea of converting the Elliott from a timber-production and recreation forest to a research and climate study forest, as well as public recreation, under the auspices of OSU. The details are to be worked out.

OSU President Ed Ray and Anthony Davis, interim dean of the College of Forestry, masterfully presented their proposal, seemingly checking every box for what the Land Board members would want to know. It undoubtedly helped that they had the inside track, as the meeting agenda implied.

In sharp contrast was the tone-deaf testimony from the Forestry Department, which seemed oblivious to the Department of State Lands' past frustrations with the agency.

• Who's in charge: House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, announced legislators' committee assignments for 2019.

The Senate will have a new committee on campaign finance, chaired by incoming Sen. Jeff Golden. Shania Fagan, who trounced incumbent Sen. Rod Monroe in a primary election battle that highlighted housing issues, will chair the housing committee. Republican Brian Boquist — who has been battling legislative leaders on a number of matters — is being replaced as chair of the Senate Veterans and Emergency Preparedness committee by fellow Republican Alan Olsen.

The Legislature will have a new Joint Committee on Capitol Culture with the co-chairs being the Senate and House Democratic leaders, Ginny Burdick and Jennifer Williamson.

The chambers' separate transportation committees have been ditched in favor of continuing the Joint Committee on Transportation.

With 38 Democrats in the 60-member House, finding enough leadership roles for Democrats can be challenging.

Some House committees will have 11 members, whereas Revenue will have seven. Jeff Barker no longer will chair House Judiciary but will lead Business and Labor. Williamson will run Judiciary. Instead of Williamson, Paul Holvey will chair Rules, which handles many of the controversial bills as a legislative session winds down.

• Stop Trump: Meredith Wood Smith was a former chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, and her memorial service will be Saturday afternoon in Portland.

The state party and her family honored her by creating the Meredith Wood Smith Grassroots Leadership Institute. More than $75,000 has been raised for recruiting and training local Democratic leaders around the state.

Before her death, she suggested that her family paint her house in Portland's historic Irvington neighborhood with the words, "Stop Trump." The family did so while the house is being renovated.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or Twitter.com/DickHughes.