A former Central Oregon lawmaker who rose to the pinnacles of power in both the state House and Senate has been tapped as Oregon’s new secretary of state.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday afternoon that she's appointing Bev Clarno, a Republican from Redmond, as a replacement to Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who died in February.
With the selection, Brown landed on an accomplished Republican with a knowledge of how Salem operates to oversee important functions like audits and state elections. The 83-year-old Clarno has also agreed to Brown’s condition that she not run for election to the seat next year, a requirement that has rankled some Republicans. She’s expected to be formally sworn in in coming days, and was out of state Friday, according to the governor’s office.
“I'm honored by the confidence that Governor Brown has placed in me and pledge to Oregonians what I pledged to her — that I will serve Oregonians as their Secretary of State in a professional and non-partisan manner and that I will be a good steward of the office," Clarno said in a statement.
In a separate statement, Brown praised Clarno's "trailblazing spirit, focus on fiscal responsibility, and a commitment to Oregonians."
“Bev’s experience as a legislator and as a manager of a large government organization is key to the success of the programs and employees the Secretary of State oversees," the statement said.
Richardson, the lone Republican holding statewide office, died of brain cancer on Feb. 26. State law requires Brown to appoint a Republican to fill out the rest of his term.
The governor announced early on in the search process that she’d only appoint a person who had no interest in running for election, a provision that ensures an open seat is up for grabs next year.
The move was consistent for Brown, who set the same criteria in 2015 when she unexpectedly ascended from the secretary of state’s office to the governorship and was charged with selecting her own successor. She wound up appointing Democrat Jeanne Atkins.
Still, the insistence on appointing a short-timer has led to criticism from Republicans, who’d like to be able to have a somewhat seasoned incumbent secretary of state running for election in 2020.
In early March, the Oregon Republican Party released a list of potential candidates it said would "keep Dennis Richardson's legacy of transparent and accountable government in place for the next two years, and beyond." The roster included Richardson's chief of staff, Debra Royal, and four former GOP state lawmakers — among them a former House speaker, Lynn Snodgrass.
According to the governor’s office, Brown took all of those people into account, along with recommendations from elsewhere. “More than 20 potential appointees” were screened, and Brown ultimately interviewed three people. The governor’s office declined to release the names of the other two finalists.
“In the interviews, Gov. Brown asked finalists about their vision for the Office of Secretary of State, their approach to Dennis Richardson’s legacy, management of large organizations or government agencies, and commitment to accountability in state government,” the governor’s office said.
Clarno entered politics in 1989, when she landed a seat representing Central Oregon in the House of Representatives. In a recent video promoting her autobiography, "From Pigs to Politics," Clarno recounted how she became interested in policymaking when state regulators began visiting her pig farm.
“They were really arrogant and they were kind of threatening to write penalties and fines. And it just offended me that government would act that way with people,” Clarno said in the video. “I thought, ‘Gosh, if I ever get my kids raised and get the chance, I’ll go in the Legislature and see if I can change things.’”
Prior to running for office, Clarno said she got both an undergraduate degree and attended law school. But her experience as a pig farmer would come to lend her an air of mystique in the Capitol — at least partly based on an interaction she had while lobbying for the job of House speaker for the 1995 legislative session.
“I asked this one guy from Salem [for his vote] and he says, ‘Well, I don’t know if I’ll vote for you or not. I really think women should be in the kitchen making cookies,’” Clarno recounted in the video. “And I said, ‘You know, I’ve raised 3,000 hogs, and I’ve castrated 200 in a day, and I think I’m tough enough to be speaker.’ Well, that did get leaked around. I’ve been introduced at speeches as castrating 200 bulls in one day.”
The Oregonian described Clarno as “strong-willed and ideologically consistent” during her time as speaker — just the second woman to hold the position in Oregon’s history — saying she’d done a “respectable job” keeping her majority party together.
As speaker, Clarno also forged a link with current Senate President Peter Courtney, then a state representative. After stripping a Republican lawmaker from a powerful position atop a budget subcommittee, Clarno appointed Courtney, then the leader of House Democrats.
Clarno didn't run for reelection in 1996, instead launching an unsuccessful campaign for state treasurer. She made her way back to the Capitol in 2001, after winning a term in the state Senate. During the 2003 legislative session, when the Senate was split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, Clarno served as Republican leader. Her Democratic counterpart was then-state Sen. Kate Brown.
In 2003, Clarno resigned from the Senate to accept an appointment from President George W. Bush to a position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Courtney was complimentary of the appointment on Friday, calling Clarno "as good as you get."
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, first met Clarno when she knocked on his door in Bend. She was campaigning for office in the late 1980s. He voted for her. Later, their time serving in the state Legislature overlapped.
He called Brown’s selection of Clarno “fantastic” and said she would honor Richardson’s legacy of being fair and acting in a nonpartisan fashion while overseeing the state’s elections.
“There is no question that Bev Clarno will be even handed and fair and will work with all parties, not just the Democratic and Republican party, but all parties in Oregon — which is critical for a Secretary of State not to play favorites,” Knopp said.
Also complimentary was Julia Brim-Edwards, a Nike executive who served as a spokeswoman for Clarno when she was speaker of the House.
"She faced some challenges that I think men in that position never had," Brim-Edwards said. "In those times, her grit and toughness and rancher charm carried the day."
According to Brim-Edwards, Clarno plans to carry out the job of secretary — the second-highest executive position in the state — from Salem, rather than setting up an office near her Redmond home.
Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, served with Clarno in the state Senate.
“I think Bev’s leadership and with the number of years she’s participated in government, she’s extremely knowledgeable about the inner workings … I’m very, very high on Bev and I think the choice was an excellent one,” Winters said.
Any potential changes to upper management within the secretary of state’s office — including the state’s elections director and audits director — were unclear Friday.
“I know there is not a Republican way or a Democrat way to oversee elections — there is only a fair and honest way," Clarno's statement said. "There is not a Republican way or a Democrat way to audit state agencies, there is only a fair, thorough and honest way. I will administer the key functions of this office in a way that will earn the trust and faith of all Oregonians."
Lauren Dake contributed to this report.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the day Dennis Richardson died, Feb. 26. OPB regrets the error.