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A life of service in the truest sense

There are politicians who are in it for prestige, for power, who run for office to boost their sense of self-importance. And then there are politicians like Dennis Richardson.

Oregon’s secretary of state died Tuesday at his home in Central Point after a long battle with brain cancer.

We didn’t always agree with Richardson. He held staunchly conservative views on social issues. But we never doubted his dedication to making government work better, and he devoted much of his career to the state budget process and promoting fiscal prudence.

Richardson was a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam, but he didn’t make a big deal out of that. After his military service, he earned a law degree from Brigham Young University. He was an attorney in private practice for many years.

He served on the Central Point City Council, was treasurer of the state Republican Party and GOP chairman of the Second Congressional District before running for state representative in 2002. He served six terms, rising to co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee in 2011, when the House was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. He handled that tricky situation with his usual aplomb.

Richardson ran for governor in 2014, losing to Gov. John Kitzhaber in a hard-fought campaign despite questions about influence peddling involving Kitzhaber and his fiancée. In 2016, Richardson made a bid for secretary of state, and became the first Republican to win statewide office in 16 years.

The secretary of state’s job — the second most powerful in state government — long has been seen as a stepping stone to the governorship, but Richardson insisted he had no further interest in the top job and would devote his energy to his new position, especially his role as the state’s chief auditor, a function he said had been neglected by Democrats reluctant to challenge their party’s control of state government.

His staff of auditors issued reports revealing wasteful spending on health care and mismanagement in the state foster care system, among other programs. Those were embarrassing to Democrats in charge, but long overdue.

Still, he vowed to approach the office in a nonpartisan way, and he succeeded. He was an advocate for greater voter participation, and was among state elections officials who rejected President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud and refused to turn over data on Oregon voters to the administration’s voter fraud commission. He also proposed a nonpartisan commission to draw legislative district boundaries after the next census.

Gov. Kate Brown says she will appoint a caretaker to fill the vacancy, someone who will promise not to run for the job.

Oregonians will have to hope for a 2020 candidate who will approach the position with Richardson’s singular drive and dedication. That’s a tall order.