Not many Republicans get elected statewide in Washington, but Sam Reed probably could have the secretary of state job for life if he wanted it. He’s been that popular.
Instead, Reed is retiring after three terms. But he has the satisfaction of knowing that the position will be in the capable hands of Kim Wyman, currently the Thurston County auditor and the candidate he strongly endorsed to succeed him.
It’s very likely that Reed’s endorsement – and the example he set in office – gave Wyman the extra nudge she needed to become the only Republican elected statewide in an overwhelmingly Democratic year. Sure, she was better qualified than her opponent and had bipartisan support from most of the state’s county auditors, but getting Reed’s blessing undoubtedly was a factor in the close race.
A majority of voters saw in Wyman what they have appreciated most about Reed during his tenure: moderation, integrity, a sense of fairness that is not swayed by partisan zeal and a wealth of experience in running elections.
Those traits were invaluable when, near the end of Reed’s first term, he was confronted by what would turn out to be the closest gubernatorial election in U.S. history. The 2004 race between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi ended after two recounts and a court challenge – with Gregoire finally being declared winner by 133 votes.
Feelings ran high during and after that election – particularly among some in his own party who thought he should have done more to help the Republican candidate. But few disputed Reed’s honesty and evenhandedness.
Reed brought to office a rock-solid résumé: 23 years as Thurston County auditor and founder of the moderate Mainstream Republicans of Washington. He worked to reform the state’s elections, make voter registration more secure and increase voter turnout through all-mail voting. Recognizing that this state’s independent voters didn’t favor having to register a party preference, he was an advocate for the top-two primary system we use today.
Reed also has been a champion for preserving the state’s history and improving citizens’ access to it. Under his leadership, Washington state government became the first to have digital archives. And he saved the state’s oldest cultural institution, the Washington State Library.
Reed leaves the office stronger than he found it. A great deal of the confidence state voters have in elections today is thanks to the leadership he exercised over the past 12 years. One only has to look at the election fiascoes in other states to appreciate the treasure Washington has had in Reed and recognize the debt it owes him.