We don't know yet how the Republican effort to recall Gov. Kate Brown is going, but we know it's not going to be an easy task: Proponents need to collect more than 280,000 valid signatures from voters just to put the measure on the put the issue on the ballot.
And then they have to prevail in a special election late this year to unseat Brown, who dispatched with relative ease a well-funded and well-qualified Republican opponent last November.
But GOP stalwarts are hoping they can pull off the upset and force Brown from office. Some of them think that would allow Secretary of State Bev Clarno, a Republican, to become governor. After all, that's how Brown, then secretary of state, became governor: Oregon's Constitution says that when the governor steps down, the way John Kitzhaber did in 2015, the secretary of state is next in line.
Among the people who don't think that would happen in this case is, well, Secretary of State Bev Clarno. Her office points to a clause in the constitution that prohibits an appointee from becoming governor. And Clarno is, of course, an appointee — she was named to the post after the untimely death in March of Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. The next in line after the secretary of state is the state treasurer — a position currently held by Democrat Tobias Read.
Recall proponents argue say that particular reading of the state constitution is in error, that Clarno retains all the rights of the secretary of state's office, including succession.
Nevertheless, it's unlikely that we'll be arguing this point in court, simply because the recall effort is such a long shot.
But, if you're wondering how it came to pass that the secretary of state became the designated successor to the governor, we refer you to a fascinating story by Gary Warner, who covers state politics for the Bend Bulletin newspaper.
Warner traced it back to a 1971 fishing trip by then-Gov. Tom McCall, a liberal Republican, on the Snake River, which forms the border between Oregon and Idaho.
At the time of McCall's trip, Warner reported, the Oregon Constitution identified the president of the Senate as the acting governor whenever the governor left the state. If the absence came during a legislative session, the Senate president had to step down.
In terms of McCall's trip, when his boat was on the Oregon side of the river, he remained governor. When he was on the Idaho side of the river, Senate President John Burns became governor. The change, Warner reported, occurred eight times during McCall's trip.
The trip helped spur an effort to change the constitution, and in November 1972, voters approved Measure 8, which said governors would retain power regardless of where they traveled. After all, newfangled inventions such as the jet plane and the telephone allowed governors to stay in touch with matters in the state even when they ventured outside Oregon's borders. Measure 8 also reinstated the original line of succession established in the state's 1859 constitution: secretary of state, treasurer, Senate president, then House speaker.
If Measure 8 hadn't passed in 1972, and the "acting governor" business had endured in the constitution, Warner notes that Senate President Peter Courtney would have become governor when Kitzhaber resigned in 2015. Whether Courtney would have run in 2016 for the remaining two years of Kitzhaber's term, as Brown did, is the sort of question that's best considered in late-night conversations over adult beverages.
We still maintain, as we have from the start, that the recall effort isn't a smart play for the state's Republicans, although it is part of a strategy that has had some success in other Western states. Still, we think the GOP would be better off to target a handful of winnable legislative seats and work hard to flip those.
And if you're wondering why the state GOP hasn't attempted to simply impeach Brown, here's part of the answer: Oregon is the only state that doesn't allow the Legislature to impeach the governor. (mm)