OSEA Backs Avakian for Secretary of State

Governor John KitzhaberFriends do right by friends, even when it’s hard.

Three Democrats are running for Oregon secretary of state. All three have, in the past, enjoyed OSEA’s endorsement because they promised to watch out for us.

When Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed slashing PERS benefits for OSEA members and retirees, two of those three broke that promise by voting twice to cut the modest retirement benefits you worked hard to accumulate. Only one stood with public employees every time: Brad Avakian, currently the state’s labor commissioner

Before he even entered politics, OSEA members have been counting on Avakian. He served as OSEA’s legal consultant on workers’ compensation for several years. His record of achievement underscores his credentials as a labor attorney and longtime believer in the power of organized workers. He has been honored by numerous labor unions for his support of working families and was named Consensus Builder of the Year by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters while he was in the state Senate.

Of the three candidates for secretary of state, only Avakian has held statewide office. As head of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), Avakian has fought to restore vocational training in schools. His efforts have borne fruit with 343 schools adding classes ranging from computer-aided design and sports medicine to traditional wood and metal shops. Avakian says these classes “will build one of the most skilled local workforces you’ll find anywhere.”

Avakian’s steadfast support for OSEA and our members is why he has earned our endorsement for secretary of state. Avakian recently dropped by the OSEA State Office, where he talked about his core values and what he hopes to accomplish as secretary of state.

When it comes to unions, what are some core values you live by?

You never cross a picket line and you never cross a collective bargaining agreement. You keep your word every time. When I had my chance (in 2003, when Avakian was a legislator) to cut PERS benefits, I stood with union members. My two opponents in this race made another choice (in 2013) and decided to strip pension benefits from public employees.

How can the audits division of the secretary of state’s office keep public agencies and contractors honest about the true cost of outsourcing government services?

We have seen many, many times where school districts have decided to privatize bus drivers, custodial services, teacher’s assistants (and) secretarial positions. What we have found is the results are never as good as when the job is done by a trained professional, and — because of that — it actually costs more money.

A good audit doesn’t just track the tax dollar, it also tracks the performance. When a contractor claims they can do the job better and more efficiently, they better darn well be able to prove it. And, if they can’t, they shouldn’t be contracting with the government.

How can the secretary of state reform issues with ballot initiatives, such as signature fraud and confusing ballot titles?

I’m sure a lot of OSEA members have looked at a voter’s pamphlet, read a ballot title and then read it again and again trying to figure out what in the world it was going to do. You’ll see me partnering with the attorney general to make sure ballot titles are easily understood and actually reflect the effect of the measure.

You have expressed plans to build on former Secretary of State Kate Brown’s civics education program. What do you have in mind?

We have to inspire people to want to vote, and one way to do that is the Oregon Youth Vote. Every school will receive ballots for their students, and parents can request a youth vote ballot be sent in the mail for their kids. They’ll actually be able to vote in each election and grow up understanding the process and value of voting at an early age.

Their vote won’t count in the official results, but we’ll count all the youth ballots and show Oregon what young people thought.

How else can the secretary of state build on successes, such as vote by mail and the recently passed motor voter law?

The long-term solution is the Oregon Youth Vote and civics education so new generations come up interested and engaged. But we also need to reach out to communities of color and newly registered adults and bring them into civic engagement. You will also see same-day voter registration and publishing ballots, the voter’s pamphlet and other state forms in first languages for immigrants.

How do you plan to address the unprecedented influence of corporations and big money in our electoral system?

Citizens United was wrong; corporations are not people, and money is not free speech. We’re going to pass a campaign finance limits bill, and it’s going to recognize the difference between huge, out-of-state corporate money and small donor political action committees (PACs). Union members who give just a tiny bit of their money each month to have their voice heard will be treated differently than that huge wash of corporate money.

You’ve spent a large part of your career in the public eye. What motivates you to keep going?

I got started in politics when the Beaverton School District — the district I grew up in; where my wife, Debbie, grew up; and where we raised our kids — eliminated its elementary music and art programs. We thought, “This is not the way a society raises its children.” … Public service is all about doing what you can to improve the lives of working people and their families.