New Secretary of State Brings Diverse Background, Wide Experience to the Job
LaVonne Griffin-Valade took the oath of office last week as Oregon’s sixth Secretary of State in the last decade following her unanticipated appointment by Governor Kotek. Griffin-Valade, who possesses one of the most diverse backgrounds of any recent Secretary of State, says her number one mission is to restore confidence in the office, which was damaged and led to the resignation of Shemia Fagan under an ethical cloud.
“Moving forward, I hope to reassure many that this office is doing the work and doing it well, that this secretary of state really believes in Oregon, really believes in transparency,” Griffin-Valade said at her press conference. “I think I’m a steady hand that will guide the Secretary of State’s Office for the next year and a half, and otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this position.”
Kotek praised her appointee’s integrity and transparency. “I’m so excited to see her leadership as Secretary of State”. Kotek took her time before appointing Griffin-Valade after the legislature adjourned June 25. Griffin-Valade expressed surprise Kotek chose her over higher-profile political figures who were interested in the appointed or identified as candidates in the media.
The former elected Portland and Multnomah County auditor, who is 69, said she doesn’t plan to seek election to the state’s second-highest office next year. The last two appointed secretaries of state – Jeanne Atkins and Bev Clarno – accepted the appointment after committing to former Governor Kate Brown they wouldn’t seek election to the job. Kotek didn’t impose that condition on Griffin-Valade.
“The most pressing job is to reassure the public the office is doing the work and doing it well.”
Immediate Issues to Address
Issues Griffin-Valade must address immediately include:
- Preparing for 2024 primary and general elections in a contentious political environment;
- Considering a redo of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Control audit that Fagan oversaw while moonlighting for a troubled cannabis company; and
- Dealing with Senate Republicans who racked up 10 or more unexcused absences in the six-week walkout during 2023 legislative session, which under voter-approved Measure 113 would disqualify them from seeking re-election.
- Boosting morale at the agency.
Griffin-Valade’s Diverse Background
Griffin-Valade retired in 2014 after serving 16 years as an auditor so she could write mystery novels centering on her fictional Oregon State Police Sgt. Maggie Blackthorne in Eastern Oregon. Her most recent novel was published in January to good reviews. Before her auditing career began in 1998, she was an elementary school teacher and a mentor for homeless youth in Marion County and young people aging out of foster care in Washington County.
Griffin-Valade was born and raised in John Day. Her father was a truck driver and member of the Teamster Union. Her mother was a mill worker. She started out as an administrative assistant in the Crook County Juvenile Department. Following her divorce, she and her two young children moved to the Willamette Valley where she earned her undergraduate degree in humanities from Western Oregon University. Later, she earned master’s degrees in public administration and fine arts from Portland State University. She and her second husband raised four children.
The Blue Book entry on Griffin-Valade adds further dimension to her background:
“In the mid-1990s, Griffin-Valade was diagnosed with breast cancer and endured months of treatment at Oregon Health Sciences University until the disease went into remission. Soon after, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland brought her on board as a trainer of educational equity for educators throughout the Northwest and the Pacific Islands. While serving in that position, she penned articles on the topic of educational equity and also earned a Master of Public Administration from Portland State University.
“After leaving public office, Griffin-Valade went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Portland State University and pursued a successful writing career. Her personal essays have appeared in Oregon Humanities Magazine. Her story Eureka was featured in the 2019 Clackamas Literary Review. Severn River Publishing has published her successful four-part Maggie Blackthorne mystery series.”
Secretary of State Duties
The Secretary of State is one of three constitutional offices established at statehood and is the auditor of public accounts, chief elections officer, public records administrator and custodian of the State Seal. As an independent constitutional officer, the Secretary of State answers directly and solely to the people of Oregon.
The secretary interprets and applies state election laws, compiles and publishes the Voters’ Pamphlet and supervises all elections, local and statewide.
She examines and audits accounts of all publicly funded boards, commissions and agencies.
She keeps public records of businesses authorized to transact business in Oregon, nonprofit corporations and trade and service marks. Other public business records include notices of security interests in movable and personal property, statutory liens and warrants.
As the public records administrator, the secretary houses and provides access to the permanently valuable records of state government through the Archives Division and manages all public records for retention and disposition.
The secretary shares responsibility with the governor and treasurer for supervising and managing state-owned lands and chairs the Oregon Sustainability Board, which works to optimize organizations’ financial, environmental and social performance. She also regulates Oregon notaries public and publishes the Oregon Blue Book.