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A step in the right direction

Making the secretary of state nonpartisan an appealing idea

Oregon's secretary of state is at the heart of Oregon's political system. The position carries vital responsibilities that deal with elections, campaign finance and candidate qualifications.

Perhaps even more importantly, it's also the position charged with redrawing the lines for congressional and legislative districts every 10 years if the Legislature fails to do so, which is usually the case. The lines are redrawn after the federal census has been taken. Thus the suggestion that the secretary of state's office become a nonpartisan office rather than being filled by someone elected from a political party is appealing.

Perhaps nothing else the secretary of state does carries with it such long-term importance as the power to decide where district lines will be drawn. After the secretary of state draws up the plan it goes to the governor, and can be vetoed by him.

Unfortunately, district lines can be drawn to favor the incumbents, or a particular political party, rather than addressing on-the-ground realities of geography and mutual interests.

That proposal for a nonpartisan position was made by a committee of the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature last week and will go to the full commission for its support. The committee felt that the public believes the state's political system has been taken over by excessive partisanship, and the committee's right.

That process has been exacerbated by battles over the state budget and, until recently, a downturn in the state economy that led to the inability of the state revenue to keep up with demands.

Legislators in both parties seemed unwilling or unable to find common ground.

Making the office of secretary of state's office nonpartisan won't cure all of that, of course, but it's a step in that direction. The powers of the office are administrative and almost judicial in nature, calling for the same kind of distance from politicking that judges have. The commission should follow its committee's recommendation and the Legislature should put the plan on the ballot.