Secretary of State Sam Reed has a few things he wants to finish before his retirement in January.
Things like returning to school, encouraging the younger vote, and promoting the importance of civility in politics and society.
And long after he leaves office, Reed said, he hopes to continue to share a piece of state history.
Reed one day would like to establish the Washington State Heritage Center in Olympia, a personal priority for the 71-year-old man, who has devoted a lifetime to public service. Its goal would be to preserve archives and documents as a state territorial library and museum, creating a learning center for children and future generations of voters. Despite delays owing to the sour economy, the program has attracted funding.
“It’s very important for people who are going to be voters, who are going to be engaged in the political process, to have some sense of historical context of how we got here from there,” Reed said during a recent visit to Kent, part of his statewide farewell tour. “It’s a passion of mine.”
Engaging younger voters is important to Reed. About 68 percent of registered voters ages 18-24 voted in the 2008 general election, compared to just 45 percent in 2000. Reed considers that a positive sign.
“Younger voters are just as impacted by what their government does as older generations,” Reed said. “I want them to understand that the best way to bring about change is through their ballot.”
To support the cause, Reed embarks this month on his annual, statewide civics tour of college campuses, where he’ll encourage students to vote and strengthen their community ties.
Reed will visit 45 campuses stretching from Bellingham to Vancouver, from Aberdeen to Pullman, in April. It is the largest number of schools he’s visited since 2006, when he began the springtime tradition.
“With so many key races and issues on this year’s ballot, students need to understand why voting is important, and they need to realize their collective voice is powerful when they exercise it through voting and being involved in their community,” Reed said. “A major reason why I do this tour is to explain to students why their vote makes a difference and tell them simple ways to be more civically engaged.”
Reed has endured an event-filled, sometimes turbulent ride in his 12 years as secretary of state. In 2004, he saw the state through one of its most scrutinized gubernatorial elections in history – when Gov. Chris Gregoire beat Republican Dino Rossi by a mere 133 votes after two recounts and a court challenge.
Under his watch, there have been 146 election reforms. Reed’s office cleaned up voter rolls, requiring new checks and balances for counties and reviews of elections.
What’s more, Reed supported the state’s current top-two primary system, where the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, move on to the general election. State Republican and Democratic parties opposed the system.
“Parties don’t agree, but the people in the state do,” Reed said.
Reed also helped to usher in the vote-by-mail system in Washington, making it only the second state in the country to adopt one, according to his office.
Throughout the changes in this period, some of them controversial, Reed and his office have striven to hold the middle ground, especially during difficult, heated elections.
“We did it professionally. We didn’t play any partisan games,” Reed insisted. “We did it in an open and transparent way, even though there clearly were problems in the counties, particularly King County. … But we made it very clear as to what was happening, why it was happening, and what we were going to do about it.”
Reed supports a Republican candidate as his successor. Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, Reed says, is qualified.
State Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, also wants the job, as do Greg Nickels, a Democrat and former Seattle mayor, and Kathleen Drew of Olympia, an analyst in the governor’s office and a former Democratic state senator.
“I hope the people of the state understand that this is a serious office, and you need somebody who is experienced and knowledgable and able to come in and provide some leadership in the issues,” Reed said.
Reed is looking forward to retirement when his third term ends in January. He says he is healthy, having recovered from surgery for the removal of a cancerous kidney last year.
Reed intends to stay politically active, complete heritage projects and stay an enthusiastic volunteer in other capacities.
“I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a great office,” Reed said. “I’ve been recruited to run for Congress and other offices … but this is what I care about. I’ve been very fortunate.”