Dennis Richardson’s life and legacy focus of new book

Special Reports

"Our Friend Dennis" chronicles the late statesman's life through the eyes of those who worked with him

AURORA, Ore. (KOIN) — When Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson died in 2019, colleagues on both sides of the aisle remembered him fondly as a man of integrity, a budget hawk, a dedicated public servant and a friend. It’s that last sentiment that inspired W. Scott Jorgensen’s new book, “Our Friend Dennis.”

Jorgensen met Richardson while working as a newspaper reporter in Central Point, where Richardson was a member of the city council. Jorgensen went on to work as his legislative aid in 2005. The two remained friends until Richardson’s death.

“Politics had always seemed like such a distant, remote thing to me and then all of a sudden after he got elected to the legislature I was like, ‘Wow. I can actually call one of these people who writes and makes laws,'” Jorgensen said. “He was a friend, but he was also a mentor in many ways.”

The idea of writing a book materialized right away, but Jorgensen said the emotions felt too raw. Over the next year or so the memories continued, and he realized that Richardson had many other friends in his immediate circle.

“He wasn’t just my friend Dennis, he was our friend Dennis,” Jorgensen said. “Between all of us, we could tell the story of his public life.”

The book, released on Labor Day by Ridenbaugh Press, includes accounts of Richardson’s political and public life from 20 different perspectives, including former legislators, Senator Kim Thatcher who is running for the office he once held, and others who worked with him.

The 2014 governor’s race is another big theme of the book. Richardson lost the election to John Kitzhaber, who resigned in 2015 amid allegations that fiancee Cylvia Hayes used their relationship to win contracts for her consulting business.

Rather than feeling bitter about the outcome of that election, Jorgensen said Richardson used the opportunity and statewide name recognition to become secretary of state two years later.

Jorgensen intentionally focused the book just on Richardson’s two decades of public service, feeling it wasn’t his place to talk about his private life or family. Richardson left behind nine children and his wife Cathy.

Whoever takes the reigns as Oregon’s next secretary of state has their work cut out for them, Jorgensen said, pointing in particular to the employment department, which received more than $85 million to modernize its benefits system in 2009, but failed to do so.

“That tens of thousands of people, months later, still can’t file their benefits or get a call back from anybody, that’s bad service and I think Dennis would have recognized that and did everything he could to help solve that problem,” he said.

Republican Kim Thatcher and Democrat Shemia Fagan are the two candidates for secretary of state. Thatcher has been a member of the Oregon State Senate since 2015, representing District 13. She has been the vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee since 2017 and also sits on the Joint Audits Committee. Prior to the senate, Thatcher was a State Representative from 2005-2014.

Fagan, who currently represents Oregon’s 24th District in the state senate, previously served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 2013 to 2017. She leads all candidates with the most donations but has been an advocate for contribution limits.

“Which of these candidates is going to continue this legacy of transparency and accountability?” Jorgensen asked. “Making sure that the people of the state get what they’re paying for and what they expect out of the state government.”

Author W. Scott Jorgensen remembers his friend and mentor Dennis Richardson in his new book “Our Friend Dennis,” scheduled for release Sept. 7, 2020 (KOIN)

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