Speaking to the press in Olympia Tuesday, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed confirmed rumors that he will end his career in public office when his current term expires in January 2013. At the time of his planned exit, he will have served in one public office or another for 45 years, the state’s most senior Republican elected official.
Reed said that his decision was not related to his recent successful battle with kidney cancer, nor his age—he is 70—but that it was a feeling that “this is the right time.”
Reed would not identify an individual he might endorse in the race to succeed him, but said, “I certainly see myself endorsing a Republican.”
In a written statement, Reed thanked the people of Washington and made it clear that his dedication to promoting his vision for the state would not end with his retirement:
“This is a bittersweet decision for me and my family. I have such love and respect for this office and for the opportunities to serve the people of Washington every single day. I came to Olympia as a young man to answer a call for a new breed of leaders, and was honored to work for Gov. Dan Evans and to be appointed assistant secretary of state by Secretary Lud Kramer at age 28. Later, I thoroughly enjoyed being Thurston County Auditor for 23 years and now have had the distinct pleasure of being Secretary of State for three terms, including presiding over the nation’s secretaries of state.
“In all, it has been quite a ride – 45 years in public life, including 35 in elective office.
“It is true, there is `a time and a season’ and for Margie and me, it is time to move on at the end of the term.
“I am leaving elective office, but not public service. I am quite certain that I will continue my love of community and state and country and serve as an enthusiastic volunteer in non-profits and charities, lecturing, writing and spending time on college campuses.
“I will continue to advocate for political moderation, both in my own party and wherever we Washingtonians can find opportunities to solve our challenges through bipartisanship and nonpartisanship. I will continue working for civility, human rights and conservation and other causes I strongly believe in. I will continue to champion civic engagement by all of us, working to build stronger communities that are inclusive of all. Margie and I will enjoy travel, the arts, sports and spending time with our family, including our two grandsons.”
Reed’s character in public office was that of a staunch defender of fairness and constitutional principles, even when those values benefited the political opposition. In the closest governor’s election in state history—the 2004 contest between Democrat Chris Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi—Reed kept the law as his guide amid rising political tensions and mounting pressure from within his own party.
According to an interview Reed gave to Governing in 2009—in connection with their decision to recognize him as one of six Public Officials of The Year—his views on political ethos and public service are in his blood:
I was profoundly influenced by my grandfather, after whom I’m named. … He was an attorney, practiced law from 1905 to 1971. He was a member of the Washington state legislature. He was a prosecuting attorney. He was state chairman of the Republican Party back in the 1920s and just a very engaged person throughout his life, and he conveyed that to us. He also conveyed a deep sense of history and the importance of our Constitution. He was a real Lincoln scholar. He was really a profound influence on me in terms of getting into public service and public office.
The inspiration of his grandfather fueled a long and successful career in public office. Not long after earning his undergraduate degree from Washington State University, Reed took notice of then-candidate Daniel Evans as he ran for governor in 1964. He describes his impression of Evans then as a “bright, articulate, young legislator” with a “vision for where the state ought to go.”
For a decade, Reed played a role in realizing Evans’ vision for Washington. First appointed by Evans as executive director of his Urban Affairs Council (1967-1969), then to the post of Assistant Secretary of State (1969-1975), and finally as the director of the state’s Constitutional Reform Commission (1975-1977).
After Evans declined to run for a fourth term, Reed and other political appointees were set to wander, but Reed’s journey wasn’t a long one. In 1978, he ran for Thurston County Auditor, a position he won that year and in fifteen subsequent elections until being elected as Washington’s Secretary of State in the 2000 election.
Reed currently lives with his wife, Margie, in Olympia. The couple has two adult children and two grandsons.