Reed served state with integrity, civility

Having saved the state library, built the nation’s first statewide digital archives and won the U.S. Supreme Court’s support for a Top 2 Primary system, Secretary of State Sam Reed has earned retirement from a 43-year public service career.

Among Reed’s long list of accomplishments, none may be more important today than his devotion to civil discourse in all forms of public dialogue.

Reed rejected the notion that the thorny task of reaching political consensus in a democratic republic must naturally degrade into divisive invectives hurled across the aisle, over the airwaves or delivered in glossy format to your door during election campaigns.

Making it his signature issue, Reed led forums on civility and for several years has held regular 7 a.m. Wednesday meetings with young state legislators about the effectiveness of civil discourse.

The moderate Republican dismisses the idea that his oversight of the impossibly close race – a 133-vote differential – between Gov. Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi in 2004 ranks as one of his top accomplishments. He says he was just doing his job.

The public might see it differently. After the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, and the devilish potential for partisan intervention in such a close and important statewide race, the Gregoire-Rossi count established Reed as a model of integrity and bolstered the already strong trust in the fairness of state elections.

Reed had hoped to leave the state with a Heritage Center, his grand plan to give the Capitol Campus a central hub for tourists that would house the state library and a learning center for children.

The recession mothballed that plan, but Reed did save the state library when Gov. Gary Locke inexplicably proposed to close it, and he leaves the state with the nation’s first digital archives, located on the Eastern Washington University campus. Credit Reed with a vision for digital records more than a decade ago, and thank the 160 or more volunteers who have been digitizing 19th- and 20th-century records into an archive that now holds more than 130 million documents.

The state now has all-mail voting in every county, an initiative inspired by his daughter, and which the voting public has overwhelmingly embraced. We wish Reed had been successful in convincing the Legislature to require ballots in-hand by Election Day, as Oregon does. It surpasses Washington’s voter turnout percentage.

The public should urge incoming Secretary of State Kim Wyman to carry Reed’s campaign forward.

Our state’s legislators should keep Reed’s plea for civil discourse foremost in their minds as they enter a politically difficult session this January, and treat each other with the respect they showed during this year’s marriage equality debate.

Reed is one of several exemplary elected officials retiring from public service this year. He set a high standard, and leaves Washington a better place.