New Oregon secretary of state takes office

LaVonne Griffin-Valade became Oregon’s 29th secretary of state on Friday, June 30, when she took her oath from Chief Justice Meagan Flynn in the governor’s temporary office at the Oregon State Library in Salem.

Griffin-Valade is a former Multnomah County and Portland city auditor who spent 16 years working in those offices and was elected to both positions. She was appointed by Gov. Tina Kotek to fill the vacancy resulting from the forced resignation of Democrat Shemia Fagan on May 8.

“I think this kind of transition is a hallmark of our democracy,” Kotek said. “By exercising my constitutional powers to make sure that someone could be in the secretary of state’s office with integrity and transparency and can restore confidence in that office, which is very critical at this moment… She is the right person for the job.”

Fagan resigned after news disclosures that she accepted a consulting contract with a cannabis company while state auditors were looking at how Oregon regulates the industry. Auditors said later that Fagan did not influence their findings.

In addition to audits, the secretary of state oversees elections — though they are conducted by officials in Oregon’s 36 counties — and public archives. Griffin-Valade said those aspects are similar to what she did as Portland city auditor, which she was elected to in 2009 and served until the end of 2014. (Her Multnomah County stint was from 1998 until 2009; she was elected county auditor in 2006.)

“I am very pleased with the folks I have met” in her new state office, she said. “They are honest. They are fair. Their judgment is good.”

While responding to questions for 15 minutes after the brief ceremony, the 70-year-old Griffin-Valade said she would complete the 18 months remaining in Fagan’s elected term but would not run herself in 2024.

“I haven’t given it a moment of thought,” she said. “I was quite surprised when the governor called about the possibility of becoming secretary of state. She reached out to me.”

Griffin-Valade was joined by her husband, Tom; they observe their 41st wedding anniversary July 3. They live in Northeast Portland. They raised two children, and as a single mother, Griffin-Valade raised two more children from a previous marriage. Three of the four adult children attended, plus three of their four grandchildren.

Griffin-Valade received wide praise at the end of her tenure in December 2014 for how she ran the city auditor’s office. She said she hasn’t formed opinions yet about the staff in her new office or what her priorities will be.

“As a trained and seasoned government performance auditor… I understand what is working and not working,” she said. “I expect to be briefed by the hard-working folks in the secretary of state’s office before making a statement about what I know and do not know about the secretary of state’s office. I can say that I plan to deliver decisions that uphold the law, that best serve Oregonians, and to be able to restore faith in the office.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities from Western Oregon University and two master’s degrees — one in public administration and the other in fine arts — from Portland State University. The latter was awarded in 2017, three years after she left government auditing. She is the author of four books focused on Maggie Blackthorne, a fictional Oregon State Police detective in Eastern Oregon, where she grew up (John Day).

“It was always a dream of mine to become a writer,” she said, and started with poetry and short stories.

Does her ascension to statewide office foreshadow what will happen for other published authors? “That would be a great idea,” she said with a laugh, “but no.”

Since Kate Brown was elevated to governor after John Kitzhaber resigned amid an ethics scandal in February 2015, Griffin-Valade is the fifth person to be secretary of state, excluding those between appointees. Brown appointed Democrat Jeanne Atkins. Republican Dennis Richardson was elected in 2016, but he died of cancer in 2019, and Brown appointed Republican Bev Clarno a month later. Fagan, a former Democratic state representative and senator, was elected in 2020.

Despite her holding the state’s second-ranking constitutional office, Griffin-Valade will not be next in line of succession to Kotek because of her appointed status. State Treasurer Tobias Read, whose second term ends at the close of 2024, will be the next in line.

Whoever is elected secretary of state in 2024 is eligible to serve two consecutive terms, the maximum allowed under the Oregon Constitution.

pwong@pamplinmedia.com

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