Farewell, Sam, and Thanks for Your Service

Secretary of State Sam Reed announced his intentions not to run for a third term next year and, in doing so, enters the coda of a 35-year career as an elected official.

I’m not big on career politicians. In fact, I think we need to impose term-limits on all offices. The propensity for corruption or lack of commitment to the values one held when they first entered the snake pit that is elective politics seems to be just too great for many and they end up compromising too easily. Sam, however, is the all too rare exception and I think the fact that he’s been skewered by members of his own party as often as he has by the opposition is a good indicator of that.

I first befriended Sam in 2004 when he was running a relatively easy campaign for reelection and I was running a quixotic one in the Heartland of Liberalism, Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District. I was a bit more liberal back then, tepidly supporting things that many “Seattle Republicans” tend to and I suppose that may have helped to forge my admiration of Sam. But even as I have become significantly more conservative in my views while Sam’s have remained the same, I’ve continued to admire him and the service he has performed to this state. Do we agree on everything? No. But I will always jump to Sam’s defense because, throughout his career, he’s always been a beacon of civility, largely above the partisan fray, and more importantly, honest in upholding the law even when it meant allowing outcomes he would rather have seen reversed.

During that famous saga which was the aftermath of the 2004 gubernatorial race, Sam was nearly burned in effigy for certifying the results despite the shady business that went on in King County. While us Rossi supporters were greatly upset by the eventual outcome of that contest and all the shenanigans that helped elect Gregoire, Sam’s decision was not among them. Unfortunately, because of the way state law was written, it wasn’t his place to second guess, in a legal sense, what went on at King County Elections. It was simply to certify the results he was given, a rubber-stamp operation if you will. His hands were tied. And if the tables had been turned, if a Democratic Secretary of State had refused to certify an closely contested election with a Republican victor on the second recount, I’m sure quite a few Republicans would have been calling for him to “do his job”.

And if Sam hadn’t chosen to follow the law, the courts would have still ended up making the same decision but, in addition to not having Rossi as governor, the Republican party would have been embroiled in a scandal the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades (even if that scandal may have been largely trumped up on partisan grounds). No, Sam did the right thing. If we choose to play dirty then we are no better than those who we detest for doing so. A victory won at the cost of dishonesty is not a victory at all. If Nixon taught us nothing else he taught us that.

But not only did Sam do his job on that occasion despite a strong outcry from within his own party, before the dust had even settled he sought to make sure that the Dino Debacle wouldn’t happened again and introduced several pieces of legislation which alleviated many of the problems that had occurred.

And that is but a single example of countless good deeds he’s accomplished in the areas of elections, charity regulation and trade during his three and a half decades in public service.

We need more folks like Sam who realize that, ultimately, honesty and civility will rule the day. (And, incidentally, from what I’ve heard about the woman who seeks to fill his shoes, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, I’d say we’re in good hands.)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t live in fantasyland (I wouldn’t be the political stripe I am if I did). Partisan sniping and mudslinging have been a mainstay of American politics since before we were a nation. My own ancestor, Congressman Roger Griswold, is famous for being the first legislator to engage in a physical altercation while on the floor of Congress, beating Congressman Matthew Lyon with his cane after the latter spit on him, a scene replicated in varying degrees and often during the early days of our nation and which make disagreements of today look downright innocent. But all of that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t applaud people like Sam for being the pillar of civility that he has been and seek to encourage our other elected officials, pundits and political operatives to do the same.

Good luck to you in your remaining year and a half in the corner office, Sam, and for the many years after during which I have no doubt you will continue to champion civility and good government in a more private role.

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