Sam Reed sets the model for exemplary public service

If you're looking for statesmanship instead of showmanship in your political leaders, honest compromise instead of backroom bullying, a protector of the people's interests rather than another conniving egotist, we have just the man for you.

Sam Reed.

Washington's secretary of state is a moderate in all things.

He is even a moderate, in the words of the late James Hilton in his novel, Lost Horizon (1933), a moderate about moderation.

If this sounds effusive, read on: We'll back it up.

For the past 23 years, every time Sam Reed has come to the Tri-City Herald editorial board seeking our recommendation for statewide public office he has gotten it.

In 1988, we recommended Reed, a Republican, against a sitting Democratic state auditor, a man we had long thought both inept at and inattentive to his duties.

The Democrat coasted to re-election.

Reed ran again in 1992, when the Democrat decided at last it was time to give it up.

We recommended him again but he lost to Democrat Brian Sonntag in one of those rare races where two excellent candidates faced each other. (We have supported Sonntag repeatedly for auditor ever since.)

In 2000, Reed received our recommendation over former Democratic Congressman Don Bonker and won the general election.

He has been secretary of state ever since.

And what's he done?

w When all his efforts could not save the cherished Washington open primary election system, he came up with a substitute that has evolved into the top-two primary we have now.

w When Republican and Democratic party leaders tried to rip him apart for not giving in to their wishes, he kept the voters in mind, not the politicians.

w When former Gov. Gary Locke tried to close the state library -- think about that for a moment -- Reed and a bipartisan coalition in the Legislature got the library transferred to the secretary of state's office.

w In the gubernatorial election in which first Christine Gregoire and then Dino Rossi see-sawed for weeks for the lead, he was a model of fairness and composure.

w He initiated the program to create a state archive to save electronic records, which serves as a national model.

w He leads the effort to establish the Washington State Heritage Center so that precious records and mementos of Washington's past will be preserved.

w He joined forces with Attorney General Rob McKenna to protect Washington citizens' right to know what's going on in their government by convincing the U.S. Supreme Court that referendum signatures are public documents.

w He was named by Governing magazine as one of the top public officials in the United States for his 30 years of service to the state -- particularly for his handling of the nation's closest gubernatorial election and leading the reforms that followed.

w Many may have forgotten, but it was Reed who insisted that the state go ahead with its primary election Sept. 18, 2001. New York had understandably canceled its primary, which had been scheduled for Sept. 11, and there was some sentiment that polling places be closed, partially out of concern that people gathered in one place might become terrorist targets.

Reed took the view that if terrorism disrupted the American election process, it might try to claim it as a victory. It's possible to forget just how anxious those times really were.

Along the way, while defending the people's right to know and performing his duties as best he knew how, Reed also used the secretary of state's office as an educational tool for Washington history.

Just last year there was a statewide celebration of women's rights, marking the 100th anniversary of the Washington State Constitution being permanently amended to grant women the right to vote.

Reed remains in office until next year, when voters will have a chance to choose his replacement.

We'll be hoping for some exceptional candidates, because whoever wins will have an exceptional performance to follow.

And we hope that with the Heritage Center and other civic-centered opportunities, Reed will still find pursuits worthy of his time.

Chances are if he does, he will have our full support.

And as to that "moderation in moderation" remark we made earlier; Reed is no moderate on the public's right to know, on fair elections or the need for education.

In these things he's an unbending hawk.