Oregons Kitzhaber resigns amid scandal – Politico
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Friday that he will step down as Oregon’s governor after a months-long saga centering around allegations of wrongdoing by the Democrat and his first lady.
In a statement announcing his resignation, which is effective Feb. 18, Kitzhaber apologized for letting his supporters down but remained largely defiant — declaring his innocence and decrying the media and his political allies for trying him in the public eye and abandoning him without hearing his defense.
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“I must also say that it is deeply troubling to me to realize that we have come to a place in the history of this great state of ours where a person can be charged, tried, convicted and sentenced by the media with no due process and no independent verification of the allegations involved,” Kitzhaber said in the statement. “But even more troubling — and on a very personal level as someone who has given 35 years of public service to Oregon — is that so many of my former allies in common cause have been willing to simply accept this judgment at its face value.”
His letter of resignation contains 11 bullet points citing the achievements he said he made in more than 12 years as governor.
“I ran for a fourth term as your governor to continue that progress,” he wrote. “But the questions that have been raised about my administration — specifically allegations against me concerning the work done by my [fiancée] Cylvia Hayes and the contracts she obtained during my last term — and the escalating media frenzy that has stemmed from this — has clearly reached the point of no return.”
The announcement is a stunning fall for the 67-year-old Kitzhaber, an institution in Oregon politics who had just begun his fourth term. The ethics scandal focused on Hayes’ private consulting and business work and the policies of the governor’s administration, where Hayes had also served an unpaid adviser. The saga was often bizarre and personal, with Kitzhaber regularly fending off suggestions that he was “blinded by love” for Hayes in his dealings as governor.
Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed state records and electronic communications relating to Kitzhaber, Hayes and 15 others in the administration, the Associated Press reported late Friday.
The governor remains under criminal investigation from state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “The governor’s decision to resign will not affect our ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of his and Ms. Hayes’ conduct,” she said in a statement Friday, while still thanking the governor for his service.
Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat, will take over for Kitzhaber. On Thursday, Brown said that the governor told her to return early to the state from a conference in Washington, D.C., this week — only to ask her later why she had come back.
In a statement released through her spokesman, Brown called the situation “bizarre and unprecedented” and said she and her staff were “ready” in the case of Kitzhaber’s resignation.
Oregon does not have a lieutenant governor. Brown will serve as governor until a special election is held in November 2016 for the final two years of Kitzhaber’s term.
The Republican Governors Association later Friday immediately attacked Brown for failing to publicly denounce Kitzhaber after months of reports on the scandal. “Kate Brown and other Oregon Democrats stayed silent for months on the matter, demonstrating they cared most about their allegiance to their party, not the constituents who elected them,” RGA communications director Jon Thompson said in a statement.
For its part, the Democratic Governors Association said Kitzhaber “made the right decision” and said Brown would “continue moving the state forward.”
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden vowed that the state would “refocus” on its goals under Brown’s leadership.
The walls had been closing in around Kitzhaber for the past few weeks. Two Oregon papers — including the state’s largest, The Oregonian, which reluctantly endorsed him in November — had called on him to step down. He had faced a state ethics commission inquiry into his activities before Rosenblum launched her criminal probe. Charlie Pearce and Jacob Daniels — top campaign officials for Dennis Richardson, the Republican who lost to Kitzhaber in November — had vowed to file a recall petition and had already filed paperwork for a political action committee, Oregonians for Public Integrity, for the recall effort.
Pearce said Kitzhaber’s resignation would hopefully allow the state move on. “This is a good day for Oregon and Democracy. No one is above the law — not even a governor who is supposed to enforce it,” he told POLITICO in an email. “Hopefully, this state can get back on to the important work of providing honest services to its citizens once again.”
Kitzhaber received little to no support from major Democratic allies: The Democratic Governors Association and state Democratic Party both declined to offer public support. The Oregonian reported that state Senate President Peter Courtney and House Majority Leader Tina Kotek, both Democrats, met with Kitzhaber Thursday morning to tell him to resign. State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, another top Democratic official, subsequently released a statement calling on him to step down.
Still, the governor had been defiant, downplaying the reports during his reelection campaign and telling reporters late last month that, while Hayes would have no role in his administration, he had no plans to step down
Hayes had been the subject of several damning reports for months that alleged she earned about $200,000 on contracts closely tied to her work in Kitzhaber’s cabinet, mostly on clean energy policy, which the governor’s administration had made a priority.
She conceded last month that she earned $118,000 over two years from the Clean Economy Development Center while she was advising the governor on energy policy. In October, the alt-weekly Willamette Week reported that Hayes received $85,000 or more in consulting contracts for work related to her duties in the administration. And last week, released emails showed that Hayes lobbied for Oregon to implement an initiative from a policy group that had already given her a $25,000 contract.
Other reports have indicated that Hayes had not filed all of her earnings from the contracts with the Internal Revenue Service.
The first lady had already been under scrutiny after embarrassing reports in October that she both accepted money to enter into an illegal marriage and participated in a plan to illegally grow marijuana on a property in Washington state in the 1990s.
A Williamette Week report Thursday cited email requests from Kitzhaber’s executive assistant, Jan Murdock, that state officials delete emails from Kitzhaber’s personal account from the state server. The request came as the governor was already under an open inquiry from a state ethics commission. Officials refused to comply with the request, according to the report.
Before becoming governor, Kitzhaber served as president of the state Senate for eight years from 1985-1993. He then won two terms as governor from 1995-2003, stepping down because of consecutive term limits in the state. He later won a close election for governor in 2010 and was likely on his way to an easy reelection in 2014 before several reports about Hayes broke and became a major issue in his race against Richardson. He still prevailed narrowly, becoming the first governor in the state’s history elected four times.