Reed says nixing presidential primary mutes state’s voice

Washington secretary of state looks back as clock ticks on his final term

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Washington could be largely irrelevant in the 2012 presidential nominating process now that the state’s 2012 presidential primary has been canceled and some states are considering holding their primaries as early as January, Secretary of State Sam Reed said in an interview with The Columbian.

The budget-strapped Legislature voted to cancel the 2012 presidential primary to save $10 million. That makes it less likely that front-running Republican candidates will schedule stops in Washington next year, Reed said. He noted that the state’s February 2008 presidential primary drew Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain to the state, but said the primary was undercut by the decisions of the two major political parties to use the results of their caucus votes to choose delegates to their national conventions.

Democrats chose all their delegates in 2008 based on the caucus votes, and Republicans chose half their delegates based on the caucus votes and half based on the result of the statewide primary.

They did so despite the fact that the caucuses drew an estimated 70,000 participants while the primary drew 1.4 million voters statewide, he said.

“We are the second-largest state in the West,” Reed said. “I just think it is imperative that in the future we hold our primary at an early date and that both parties use it, and then make a full-court press in getting the candidates out here. We have issues that are never discussed” in presidential campaigns, he said, including public power, the cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation, federal dams and international trade.

Reed, a moderate Republican, has served a tumultuous three terms as the state’s top election official and will not run for reelection next year. He endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race Friday during Romney’s appearance at a Portland fundraising event.

“I’ve followed Romney for years,” Reed said. “I like the fact that he seems to be the only adult in the room.”

During his tenure, Reed helped launch and champion the top two primary system after a court overturned Washington’s open primary. He won praise for his handling of the aftermath of the 2004 gubernatorial election, in which the vote tally between Democrat Chris Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi seesawed for weeks.

Reed said he’s pleased with the progress of the state redistricting commission, which narrowed its proposed legislative and congressional redistricting maps from four to two on Friday — one backed by the commission’s two Democrats, the other by its two Republican members. The commission must submit a final redistricting plan to the Legislature by year’s end, but Republican commissioner Slade Gorton is pressing to reach agreement on a plan in time for the Legislature’s special session, which begins Nov. 28.

Some critics say the commissioners have been improperly focused on protecting incumbents’ seats, but Reed said that is a “realistic goal.” He said the process is much fairer than the way lines were drawn before the state’s current bipartisan commission system was adopted in 1991. In states where Legislatures still draw the line, he said, lawmakers engage in “political cannibalism,” deciding “which of their own they are going to eat.”

The state’s ongoing budget crisis has taken a big toll on one of Reed’s top priorities, construction of a $100 million Washington State Heritage Center in Olympia to house the state library and state archives and offer exhibits on Washington history. The $13 million raised to date through county auditors’ real estate filing fees will be tapped by the Legislature over the next two years to provide operating funds for existing programs, leaving the piggy bank empty.

In 2009, the architectural plans for the building were 90 percent completed and the state was preparing to go to the bond market to secure financing, Reed said. “The plans were ready to go to bid when the bond market collapsed.”

The Washington State Library merged with the Secretary of State’s office in 2003.

Reed hasn’t given up on the project, though he won’t see it realized while he’s in office.

“The legislators who have been champions are just as fired up as ever,” he said. To keep the dream alive, he is offering exhibit space in his own office and raising private contributions to support the Legacy Project, which interviews Washington leaders and publishes oral history books.

He notes that during the New Deal following the Great Depression, government didn’t stop supporting the arts and culture but subsidized them to keep artists employed.

Reed has lost one-third of his staff to budget cuts during the recession, but he acknowledged that direct services have paid a higher price.

“I worry about our higher education institutions,” he said. “I want to make sure we don’t harm them. In my office, what I emphasize is that I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for themselves. I tell them, ‘Be creative. Use your imagination.’”

It’s possible the Legislature could change hands in 2012 after eight years of Democratic majorities in both chambers, Reed said.

“It could, partly because of the economy,” he said. “People are angry.”

As for his own legacy, he said he plans to spend his last year in office “giving my swan song. I plan to focus on civility and moderation in politics.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523; http://www.twitter.com/col_politics; kathie.durbin@columbian.com.