SALEM — Dennis Richardson, the first Republican to serve as Oregon’s Secretary of State since 1985, took the oath of office Friday morning at the Oregon Capitol.
Former Secretary of State Phil Keisling opened the ceremony, followed by a keynote speech from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, the lone Republican member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation.
Walden praised Richardson’s political career and echoed his platform.
“I know Dennis understands well how both transparency and accountability are the twin engines of the Secretary of State’s Office,” Walden said in remarks from the dais in the Oregon Senate Chamber.
A Republican has not been elected to statewide office since 2002, when U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith won reelection to his second and final term.
Richardson continued his campaign message of government transparency in his inauguration speech, and touted his reentry into public service — he initially retired after losing the 2014 gubernatorial election to Democrat John Kitzhaber.
Richardson quoted a Latin saying — “pro tanto quid retribuamus” — which has been translated, Richardson said, as “for those whom so much has been given, what may we give?”
Though a Republican, Richardson said he will operate the Secretary of State’s Office as a nonpartisan.
Richardson’s first day on the job is Jan. 3.
Keisling, Oregon’s secretary of state from 1991 to 1999, praised Richardson’s public service.
In the past week, however, Richardson has gotten some heat for two key appointments — Leslie Cummings as deputy secretary of state, and Steve Trout as the head of elections.
Trout led the elections division when now-Gov. Kate Brown was secretary of state. Having been hired in 2009, he resigned from the post in 2013, the year after, The Oregonian reported, Brown received criticism for providing late notice to candidates that the 2012 election for labor commissioner would be held in November and not in May.
Cummings, meanwhile, will join the Secretary of State’s Office from the joint Office of Information Services for the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services, where she is a strategic analyst.
Cummings resigned from her post managing technology projects at the Oregon Employment Department in 2013. The Oregonian reported Thursday that she resigned after allegations that a project she managed slowed other projects down and wasted money, a connection that a spokesman for Richardson took issue with Friday.
Cummings is married to legislative fiscal analyst Bob Cummings. According to The Oregonian, Bob Cummings’ communications about the project to agency leaders also prompted probes by the Oregon Department of Justice and the state ethics commission, which were both dropped.
Richardson’s spokesman, Michael Calcagno, claimed Friday that Leslie Cummings became the “scapegoat” for management issues at the employment department.
Calcagno claimed Cummings was a whistleblower who approached management and the Legislature about management issues.
“...To lay all of the mismanagement and issues at Leslie’s feet, is, I think, not accurate,” Calcagno said. “...Ultimately, the agency director of the Oregon Employment Department was replaced and so our perspective is this was a top-down management problem and it was a cultural problem in that agency.”
Calcagno said the ethics commission voted unanimously to dismiss the nepotism allegations. The DOJ investigation was closed due to insufficient evidence, The Oregonian reported.
In a statement Friday, Richardson stood by his appointments:
“I’m proud of the professionals on my team who hold high ethics, strong character and moral resolution,” he said. “Some of my new staff have demonstrated leadership and honor during their periods of public employment. They held true to their values and did the right thing despite political pressure: refusing to stay silent amid wasted public resources and unethical leadership that drove their agencies into the shadows by avoiding accountability and transparency.”
He also said his staff’s experience would help “change the culture of dysfunction, whitewashing and toxic partisanship so we can move Oregon forward.”