SALEM — Jeanne Atkins, a longtime Democratic staffer, is Gov. Kate Brown’s appointee to succeed her as Oregon secretary of state.
Atkins will be sworn in at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the governor’s ceremonial office at the Capitol.
Atkins will serve the slightly less than two years remaining in the second term of Brown, who succeeded John Kitzhaber as governor upon Kitzhaber’s resignation Feb. 18.
“I am pleased to be able to appoint a successor with such impeccable professional credentials,” Brown said in a statement.
Atkins had stepped down recently as state director for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who won a second term Nov. 4. The state director oversees Merkley’s six home-state offices.
Atkins had held that job since mid-2009, after Merkley became a senator.
She also was Merkley’s chief of staff when Merkley was speaker of the Oregon House in 2007 and 2008, just before Merkley was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.
She had been with Merkley since Merkley became House Democratic leader in 2003, three years before Democrats became the House’s majority party and he became speaker.
“Governor Brown couldn’t have picked a more dedicated and experienced public servant to become our next secretary of state. Jeanne Atkins is a true Oregon gem and supremely qualified,” Merkley said in a statement.
In a retirement tribute Jan. 8, Merkley had this to say about Atkins:
“Jeanne is not someone who got into politics to be important or powerful. She got into policy and politics because she believed in public service and she believed that each person has the power to make a difference. It is one of the attributes I most value about having her on my team.”
She also was staff director for the Oregon Senate Majority Office more than 20 years ago.
“I worked closely with Jeanne Atkins when she worked in the Legislature,” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said in a statement. “She’s intelligent. She’s professional. She’s a veteran administrator who knows state government. Jeanne will serve Oregon and her people well. Governor Brown has made an excellent choice.”
But House Republicans, while acknowledging that Brown was compelled to choose a Democrat as her interim successor, complained about Atkins’ previous career working for Democrats.
“The law calls for a Democratic placeholder in the secretary of state’s office, but I don’t know that Governor Brown could’ve picked an individual with more partisan credentials than Ms. Atkins,” Kara Walker, the House GOP spokeswoman, said
“This appointment comes a day after the governor named the former Oregon teachers’ union leader as her new education policy adviser. OEA yesterday, Planned Parenthood today — what’s tomorrow, Sierra Club? It’s clear that the same old revolving door of partisan ideologues is alive and well in Salem.”
Atkins also was a manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services, leading the women’s and reproductive health section of the Office of Family Health.
She has worked for several nonprofit agencies, among them the United Way of the Columbia/Willamette, Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, and the Women’s Equity Action League in Washington, D.C.
“Jeanne Atkins is greatly respected for her years of hard work and dedication to Oregon, and I trust that she will serve ably as our secretary of state,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said.
As secretary of state, Atkins will oversee elections — which are conducted by officials in Oregon’s 36 counties — and audits, state archives and business functions.
Although she will be secretary of state, Atkins as an appointee would not become governor if something happened to Brown. The Oregon Constitution specifies that succession falls to an official already elected — in this case, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in 1971 and a law degree from the University of Oregon in 1978.
Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, said she has known Atkins well for more than 15 years.
“Jeanne is an experienced, fair, and effective leader who will take great care of the duties of the Secretary of State’s Office,” she said in a statement. “She is eminently qualified and I look forward to working with her as Senate majority leader and chair of the Senate Rules Committee.”
Although she has run twice for the Oregon House — she made losing bids in 1992 and 1994 — Atkins might not be a candidate for a term of her own as secretary of state next year, leaving the field of successors wide open. She would be eligible for two full terms if she did run.
The release by the governor’s office is silent on that point, and Atkins did not make herself available for questions prior to her swearing-in.
She is married to John Atkins; they live in Portland.
“I share the values and enthusiasm for this position that Governor Kate Brown demonstrated during her tenure,” Atkins said. “I will be diligent in carrying out the responsibilities of the office of Oregon secretary of state.”
— The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.