Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher has represented residents of the Keizer area for 15 years, first as a representative and then as a senator. But she said she always thought if she ran for a statewide office, secretary of state would be the one.
This year, she’s making that run.
Having emerged from the primary with the Republican nomination, Thatcher will now face Democrat Shemia Fagan — a favorite of public employee unions and environmental conservation groups — in the November general election.
Thatcher stopped by The News-Review on Wednesday during a two-day visit to Roseburg to talk about her campaign.
The secretary of state’s position is an important one. The secretary oversees elections and takes a watchdog role, including running audits of the state department.
Much of Thatcher’s legislative experience is on point. She has served on committees dealing with audits, transparency, elections and public records. And she authored legislation that created an ombudsman position in the secretary of state’s office to help small businesses cut through red tape. If she wins, she’ll oversee that ombudsman.
If she wins, Thatcher will also be one seat away from the governor’s office.
Gov. Kate Brown, a former secretary of state, first ascended to the governorship after John Kitzhaber resigned in 2015, but Brown was later elected to continue in the role.
Although the state’s voters lean Democratic, the current secretary of state is a Republican. Bev Clarno was appointed to the role to replace Republican Dennis Richardson, who died of brain cancer in 2019.
Thatcher noted that Oregon is not a Democratic-majority state, since unaffiliated and Republican voters together outweigh the number of Democratic voters. And she has the nomination of the Independent Party, in addition to that of the Republicans.
She sees the secretary of state’s role as a nonpartisan one and said she’s not going into it as a step toward governor.
“My opponent has made it clear that she is running as a Democrat for secretary of state, that’s what I’ve seen on her signs. I just don’t think that the secretary of state’s office should have a partisan agenda,” she said.
She said Richardson approached it as an administerial and managerial position, and she’d like to follow in his footsteps.
“I think it really brought up the level of professionalism and the expectations that Oregonians have. It should be to serve all Oregonians and not be the Republican secretary of state or the Democrats’ secretary of state,” she said.
One of the most important of the secretary of state’s roles is to oversee the auditing of state agencies.
The crisis in the Oregon Employment Department, which has led to long delays for many impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic trying to obtain benefits and to a change in leadership is an example of why auditing is so important, she said.
The department had been audited, and because of that, the legislature had authorized replacing its antiquated computer systems. However, that hadn’t happened and as a result some people, unable to obtain benefits, are suffering.
Those computer systems need to be replaced and Oregon needs to look at other states to see what can be done better, she said.
Another key role of the secretary of state is to oversee the state’s elections.
Some Republicans have raised concerns about the motor voter program. Some complaints have come in that people who thought they were registered Republicans or Democrats were registered unaffiliated, and some have pointed a finger at the DMV program that registers voters.
Thatcher said most of the time there are logical explanations for the problem, but there are some cases that have made her wonder.
“There seems to be a glitch somewhere. I’d really like to do a deep dive into that,” she said.
She said the state needs to look into its election system from top to bottom, from registration to counting ballots to certifying elections. Voters should be given the confidence they need that elections are fair, she said.
She did say that Oregonians love their mail-in voting system and studies verify that Oregon has a pretty good voting system.
Thatcher also has business experience. She started KT Contracting, a subcontractor on public works jobs that has worked with the Oregon Department of Transportation since 1992, as well as branching out to Washington and Idaho. And she started the company Highway Specialties in 2006. It supplies materials like the lighted road signs that announce paving projects ahead.
She started the business in her basement after her husband lost his construction job. They had just bought a house in Keizer and she had three kids under the age of 5.
Thatcher said she had wanted to own her own business since she was 6, when she became interested in who made her toys and asked her father what a corporation was.