When talk turns to “going out while you’re on top,” Sam Reed qualifies for a good portion of the conversation. Reed announced Tuesday he will retire next year as Washington secretary of state. His record as an impartial steward of one of our state’s most cherished processes (elections) stands as bold testimony that — barring any unforeseen developments in the next year and a half — Reed will hit the finish line in full stride and at the peak of his career.
Reed has become a poster boy (if you can be a boy at 70) for nonpartisan public service. So revered is he by his fellow Washingtonians, Reed in his last election (2008) received a higher percentage of votes than Barack Obama (58.3 percent compared with 57.6 percent) even though he was running as a Republican in heavily Democratic-leaning state. How did he pull off that statistical peculiarity? Because all across the state, voters in 2008 were familiar with Reed’s superb record of 45 years in public life, including 35 in elected office.
Another indication of Reed’s impartiality is this quote in The Seattle Times recently by Paul Berendt, who was chairman of the state Democratic Party in 2004 when Reed supervised what is believed the closest gubernatorial election in America’s history: “(Reed) was far less partisan than I expected him to be. He followed the letter of the law to the T.” That was the election in which Chris Gregoire defeated Dino Rossi by 133 votes. It’s high praise when the Democratic Party chair says the Republican secretary of state did a fine job during a difficult process that required six months to finalize Gregoire’s victory. “He’ll probably go down in history as the secretary of state who oversaw the stickiest wicket that we went through,” Berendt also correctly noted.
Reed has been so nonpartisan, he even managed to infuriate leaders of both political parties in equal measure. And they’re still mad at him for helping create our state’s superb top two primary. Party leaders don’t matter as much as voters. And, of course, voters of all political persuasions love the primary format that allows the top two vote-getters — regardless of party affiliation — to advance to the general election.
Reed also helped guide Washington to all-mail voting, which is a model for many other states that are considering changing to the same system.
Yes, Reed holds a party affiliation. He was quoted in the Times story: “I’m very much a Republican and see myself endorsing a Republican” for his successor. (As of Tuesday, only state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, has announced he’s running for the job of secretary of state.)
But on the other hand, Reed deftly avoids partisan spats, noting in his own statement Tuesday: “I will continue to advocate for political moderation, both in my own party and wherever we Washingtonians can find opportunities to solve our challenges through bipartisanship and nonpartisanship. I will continue working for civility, human rights and conservation and other causes I strong believe.”
Reed says age is not a factor in his decision, noting that many of his relatives worked at ages far beyond his 70. He also says a 2010 diagnosis of kidney cancer is not a factor, pointing out that he has undergone treatment and has “a clean bill of health,” according to the Times story.
The going-out-while-you’re-on-top theory makes more sense. And there’s ample reason to believe Reed is precisely at that point. He’s posted six terms as Thurston County auditor and three terms as secretary of state, helping guide Washington through difficult but positive changes in elections. Indeed, when he says “it is time to move on,” we believe him, because Sam Reed has repeatedly shown that his credibility is impeccable.