After more than 40 years of public service, Secretary of State Sam Reed has decided to step aside when his third term ends in January 2013. But you can’t accuse the 70-year-old of coasting into retirement.
In just the last seven years, he has battled both major political parties in preserving the independence of the state’s voting system, negotiated the tricky terrain of the ultra-close 2004 governor’s race and subsequent court cases, championed and implemented all-mail voting, created and administrated the domestic partnership registry for same-sex couples, and fostered open government by allowing the release of initiative and referendum signatures – a controversial move ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reed is a Republican, but he has run the office in such a way that political affiliation is irrelevant, as it should be. In many ways, Reed is a throwback. He entered public service to serve the public, not to further a specific point of view or accumulate power. He is unfailingly gracious, civil and dignified. In the rough and tumble of today’s politics, he stands apart.
In fact, he has taken on the issue of civility in public discourse and worked to spread the word that collaboration and collegiality should not be viewed as quaint relics. He is the perfect person for this task.
Reed was born in Wenatchee and graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane. From there, he attended Washington State University. His first government job was as an assistant secretary of state. He was also director of the State Constitutional Reform Commission and a longtime Thurston County auditor.
It was during that epic 2004 governor’s race between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi that Reed shined as an objective arbiter. Though Rossi was a fellow Republican, Reed abided by state election laws in overseeing the recount that ultimately handed the race to the Democrat. Then he defended the recount when it was unsuccessfully challenged in courts. Reed took a lot of abuse, but the courts ultimately backed him when those hurling accusations of voter fraud were unable to produce compelling evidence.
Reed also didn’t shy from the fight when the Democrats and Republicans succeeded in getting the courts to toss the state’s cherished blanket primary. He responded by becoming a champion of the current top-two primary, which has reinstated the independence that Washington voters value.
Reed has set the bar high on how to run the secretary of state’s office. His standards of fairness and tough-minded devotion to public service ought to be the goal of every successor.
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