The latest 'surreal day' in the life of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber – Washington Post
“In one of the most surreal days in Oregon political history, the state’s top Democratic leaders called for Gov. John Kitzhaber to resign and the governor vanished from public view,” the Oregonian’s Laura Gunderson wrote Thursday.
It looked pretty surreal Tuesday as well. That was when Oregon’s Secretary of State Kate Brown, in line to succeed Kitzhaber if and when he ever does resign, had what she called a “bizarre” encounter with Kitzhaber.
She got called back early from a meeting in Washington by the governor. When she rushed back and went immediately to see him, here’s what happened: “He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange,” she said. “The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition. This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.”
Brown said she was ready, should he resign. (If he does, she would become the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.)
But will he or won’t he? As Brown discovered, it’s not yet clear.
Kitzhaber, a former emergency-room doctor, is serving is fourth term as governor. He and his fiance, Oregon’s first lady, Cylvia Hayes, have been bombarded with allegations of conflicts of interest, all of them revolving consulting jobs she won thanks to connections with Kitzhaber, as The Washington Post’s Niraj Chokshi and Reid Wilson reported. The couple has denied all wrongdoing.
But this has never been your garden-variety conflict-of-interest story — and conflicts-of-interest rarely produce calls for resignation from a governor’s own party.
This saga began with what has to be one of the strangest tales ever told by a state first lady. In October, Hayes confessed she had been married to an an Ethiopian immigrant 17 years ago and helped him obtain U.S. residency in exchange for $5,000. She hadn’t told anyone, she said, including Kitzhaber.
“It was a marriage of convenience,” she said in a statement. “He needed help, and I needed financial support.”
That same month, according to the Associated Press, Hayes acknowledged “that in the same year as the marriage, she purchased property in Washington state intended to be used for a marijuana-growing operation but denied participating financially, saying that the scheme ‘never materialized.’ The man who sold the property says he found evidence that it did. Washington has since legalized medical and recreational marijuana, but the drug was illegal there in 1997.”
Most recently, media outlets, including the Williamette Week, reported that just a week ago — the day before the state’s Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into allegations against Kitzhaber and his wife — the governor’s office “requested state officials destroy thousands of records in the governor’s personal email accounts.”
The timing, as the paper noted, raised “concern.” Kitzhaber’s spokesman described the request as routine. But some gutsy official in the chain of command didn’t think so, and refused to destroy the e-mails, according to the Week.
On Thursday, as the Oregonian reported, the Oregon Senate president, the Oregon House speaker and the Oregon treasurer pressed Kitzhaber to resign.
“Untenable,” was how the treasurer, Ted Wheeler, put the situation.
“The governor, 67, did not take the advice well,” reported the Oregonian. “He was upset,” Senate President Peter Courtney told the paper. “He was defiant. He was struggling.”
[RELATED: Oregon’s first lady admits to secret past]
Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.