Secretary of State Bev Clarno said she is honored by the appointment as she was ceremonially sworn in to office. (Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau)

Scores of family, friends, lawmakers and journalists packed into the Governor’s ceremonial office to watch Oregon’s newest Secretary of State, Bev Clarno, take the oath of office.

The event was largely symbolic. Clarno was officially sworn in Sunday night, and got to work Monday morning.

Clarno, an 83-year-old Redmond Republican, was appointed by Gov. Kate Brown to fill the remainder of Dennis Richardson’s term.

Richardson died in office in February. Clarno previously served in the legislature as Speaker of the house in the 1990s and Senate Republican Leader in 2003, when there was an even 15-15 split in the chamber.

Her former colleagues and friends, like Brown and senators Jackie Winters, R-Salem, and Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, talked about Clarno’s toughness.

“Bev is truly the real deal,” Brown said. “She’s tough as nails, and she actually knows how to use them. She isn’t the type of leader who would crack glass ceilings with stilettos. She’d take a hammer and tear that damn ceiling down.”

Clarno thanked Brown for the appointment and said how honored she was, but did not discuss a policy agenda or take questions from the media.

In a later interview with Salem Reporter, Clarno said it’s too early to lay out an agenda for her 21 months in office.

She said she wants to continue Richardson’s approach to the job by providing transparency and government accountability. She said she plans to keep the division heads on board and learn from the office’s staff.

However, she will have to fill three executive positions.

One of Clarno’s first moves Monday morning was to ask for the resignation of Richardson’s executive staff, comprised of his deputy Leslie Cummings, his chief of staff Deb Royal and Steve Elzinga, his government affairs director.

“I wanted to just build my own leadership team, which has no reflection at all on their abilities and what they did here for Secretary Richardson,” she said.

Clarno said she doesn’t yet have people in mind to fill those positions.

Meantime, Clarno has a trusted team helping her with the transition.

Nike Senior Director of Global Operations Julia Brim-Edwards, Clarno’s son Randy Hilderbrand and Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, are helping her run the office.

Hilderbrand and Brim-Edwards worked for Clarno when she served in the legislature.

“Right now the only thing those two are working on is making sure I get scheduled, meet everybody and have time to have lunch,” Clarno said. “They are just strictly volunteering.”

Clarno said as of now, she doesn’t plan to hire any of the volunteers on long-term.

“I can’t hire my own son anyway,” Clarno said. “If I have other staff that says, “OK, we need Randy in here,’ fine, but I understand the rules and laws. The Department of Justice has already explained that to me.”

Clarno said going forward, she wants it known she plans to serve on behalf of all Oregonians, and specifically said she wants to be a voice for rural Oregon.

She plans to bring her experience in farming and ranching to the State Land Board, a triumvirate comprised of Clarno, Brown and Treasurer Tobias Read which makes decisions on state lands.

Clarno said she doesn’t have any ideas of how to use that influence yet, including on high-profile issues like the Elliott State Forest, but she wants to express the concerns of rural Oregonians.

“I just know I will bring a rural prospective, and I just get very concerned about the rural-urban divide,” she said. “If I can heal that in anyway, I would like to do that.”

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: aubrey@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1251. 

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