Ruling: Ted Wheeler can't run for Treasurer again (but what about the Bill Bradbury precedent?)

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Ruling: Ted Wheeler can't run for Treasurer again (but what about the Bill Bradbury precedent?)

If Bill Bradbury could serve more than 8 years, why can't Ted Wheeler?

It's long been assumed that our state treasurer, Ted Wheeler, would run for re-election in 2016. But as it turns out, he's ineligible. At least, that's according to a legal opinion (pdf) issued by Oregon's attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, in response to a request from Secretary of State Kate Brown.

First, let's recap our recent history:

In March 2010, Treasurer Ben Westlund passed away while in office. Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed Ted Wheeler, then Multnomah County Chair, to the job. Wheeler was then on the primary ballot in May 2010 and the general election ballot in November 2010 -- winning an election to the second half of Westlund's term. In 2012, Wheeler was elected to a full term as Treasurer.

The first part of Rosenblum's opinion isn't particularly complicated. It basically points to the plain language of the Oregon Constitution, Article VI:

There shall be elected by the qualified electors of the State, at the times and places of choosing Members of the Legislative Assembly, a Secretary, and Treasurer of State, who shall severally hold their offices for the term of four years; but no person shall be eligible to either of said offices more than Eight in any period of Twelve years.

By the end of 2016, Wheeler will have served six years and just over eight months. It seems obvious that he wouldn't be eligible to run for another term of four years.

So, why is this news? Why did we need a formal ruling on it from the AG?

Well, it's not quite so simple as the above.

Neither of the recent Oregonian articles (here and here) explained this, but those of us wondering about the question kept looking to the precedent set in 2004 when Bill Bradbury ran for re-election as Secretary of State. By the time he was done, he had served a total of nine years and two months -- which is, after all, more than eight years.

Let's remember that history:

In November 1999, Secretary of State Phil Keisling resigned. He had been re-elected in 1996, so his resignation came with some 14 months to go. Governor John Kitzhaber appointed Bradbury. Then, in November 2000, Bradbury won his first full term. Then, in November 2004, he ran for re-election.

So, why wouldn't the Bradbury precedent apply in the Wheeler case? After all, if Bradbury could serve more than eight years -- despite the plain language of the Constitution -- why couldn't Wheeler? Or was a mistake made in allowing Bradbury to run for re-election?

As it turns out, there's a small but critical difference between the Bradbury scenario and the Wheeler scenario. The AG's opinion doesn't directly reference Bradbury, but draws a bright line between the two situations.

According to the opinion, the time period between an appointment to a vacancy and when a successor is elected (including to a partial term) does not count against the eight-year limit. But once a formal election happens, the clock starts to run.

It actually comes from an entirely different part of the Oregon Constitution; Article II, Section 12:

In all cases, in which it is provided that an office shall not be filled by the same person, more than a certain number of years continuously, an appointment pro tempore shall not be reckoned a part of that term.

So, in the Bradbury case, that first 14 months didn't count; he was just an appointee. But for Wheeler, while the first 9 months didn't count, once he won that 2010 election, he was no longer an appointee and the clock started to run. And at the end of his current term, he'll be at six years -- and ineligible to run again.

Mystery solved. And the answer is fairly elegant. Even if not entirely satisfying to fans of the State Treasurer.

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