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A safe choice for secretary of state

Critics were quick to find fault with Gov. Kate Brown's choice to succeed her as secretary of state, but the concerns are overblown.

Brown announced Friday that she was appointing Jeanne Atkins, a former top aide to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, to take her place. Brown was elevated to the governorship when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned amid an ethics scandal.

Under the Oregon Constitution, the secretary of state is first in line to succeed the governor, but that won't apply to Atkins because she was appointed, not elected. If the governorship should become vacant again before a secretary of state is elected, Treasurer Ted Wheeler is next in line.

In any case, Atkins says she is not interested in running for a full term. Brown's term ends at the end of 2016.

Atkins, 65, still could change her mind and decide to run in 2016, but all indications are that she intends to return to retirement. She retired as Merkley's state director in January after a long career as a political staffer, working as chief of staff for Merkley when he was speaker of the Oregon House, chief of staff for then-Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, in 2009 and senior staffer for the Senate Democratic Caucus in 1993. She ran unsuccessfully for a House seat twice, in 1992 and 1994.

Oregon House Republican spokeswoman Kara Walker complained that Atkins is too partisan. Brown was obligated by law to appoint a Democrat, but she could have chosen someone who intended to seek the office, giving that person the advantage of running as the incumbent.

Appointing a caretaker also frees Brown from having to pick a favorite from among several colleagues who are believed to be interested in the position.

Republicans should be pleased that any candidate they put forward won't have to run against an incumbent, especially given the fact they haven't won a statewide seat in a dozen years. They should spend less energy complaining about Atkins and more time working on a list of strong candidates for 2016.

Brown will be running for the last two years of Kitzhaber's term, the secretary of state job will be open, and so will the state treasurer's seat, because Treasurer Ted Wheeler is barred from running again by term limits.

In the interim, Atkins appears equipped to handle the tasks of the secretary of state, while, we hope, avoiding the politics.