Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Brad Avakian gained infamy when he fined a Christian bakery with $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The owners of the bakery, Aaron and Melissa Klein, turned down baking a cake to a lesbian couple as it would violate their Christian beliefs. Avakian claimed that the Klein's refusal to bake the cake were not protected under the 1st Amendment, and labeled it illegal discrimination.
The Klein's were forced to shut down their bakery, and now operate solely online. Melissa Klein has stated that she would like to reopen an actual store one day, but that doing so in Oregon would be next to impossible.
Meanwhile, as they Klein's were struggling with their battle against the court system, Avakian looked to move up in the state government by attempting to run for Secretary of State. His campaign claimed that he would use his office to come down hard on corporations with audits, use his governmental powers to protect the environment, and police workplace pay.
None of these things being what a secretary of state does.
Avakian claimed that even though the office has never done these things before, it doesn't mean it shouldn't be tried. So it was that Avakian ran as a big government candidate for the secretary of state position in the very blue state of Oregon.
And Avakian lost. Handily.
What's more, Avakian lost to a Republican, former state representative Dennis Richardson. Aside from being a Republican beating a Democrat out of office in Oregon, Richardson will be the first Republican voted into statewide office in 14 years. He won, despite being a noted social conservative who would audit public spending. Despite his positions, Richardson said that he would be a completely nonpartisan entity as a secretary of state.
This was enough to win him favor with Oregonians, and even got him endorsements by some Oregon publications that would normally reject a Republican like Richardson whole hog. Progressive outlet Willamette Week gave Richardson their nod over Avakian, saying that they couldn't trust the Democrat due to too many factors that made him untrustworthy.
A former lawmaker from Washington County, Avakian, 55, was appointed to his current post in 2009. When he sought an open congressional seat in 2011, WW revealed he'd failed in the past to pay property and income taxes and his bills, including his Oregon State Bar dues.
Those lapses bother us less today than the impression that, perhaps more than any candidate in Oregon, he will do or say anything to advance his political career.
In this race, he's promised to use the Secretary of State's Office to defend access to abortions, create green jobs, promote sustainable energy, audit private corporations and bring civics education back to public schools. Every one of those aims is laudable. None of them has much to do with the job Avakian's seeking. That leaves two possibilities: Avakian doesn't respect the parameters of the office, or his mouth is cynically writing checks he knows he can't cash in order to win endorsements and votes.
The Oregonian took a similar line, and also backed Richardson, stating that personal politics has no place in the office of secretary of state, and that Avakian doesn't have the integrity of Richardson, and for this particular office, integrity is of high importance. So Oregonians voted to keep Avakian's activism out of the secretary of state office, sending the message that even in highly partisan states, lines need to be drawn.
Avakian still holds his position at the Oregon Bureau of Labor for the next two years. Whether or not he will seek higher office again, and in a position that allows him to push his radical ideological beliefs onto the state, remains to be seen.