The long, bizarre — and dumbfounding — saga of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber – Washington Post (blog)
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) had decided to resign his office Tuesday over continuing questions about his fiancee’s actions as a consultant, according to the Oregonian. Then, on Wednesday, he reportedly changed his mind.
The governor is pretty clearly holding onto his career by a thread. As summarized over on GovBeat, first lady Cylvia Hayes was guiding state employees on the implementation of a new policy even as she was doing private consulting work for a group pushing the same policy. The story has taken several turns, most recently with the Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, calling on Kitzhaber to resign. A recall effort has also been launched, as has a criminal investigation by the state attorney general. And tangentially, there’s that whole matter from last year about Hayes having married an 18-year-old Ethiopian to secure a green card for him in exchange for $5,000. She neglected to inform the governor of this before the media unearthed it.
Kitzhaber’s resignation appeared imminent Wednesday after Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) abruptly left Washington, D.C., to head back to Oregon. (Oregon is one of five states in which there is no lieutenant governor position, leaving Brown as Kitzhaber’s successor, should he resign.) Kitzhaber’s lawyer also gave a classic non-denial denial about the governor’s potential resignation, saying, “I have every reason to believe the governor will stay in office.”
Update 3:20 p.m.: In another turn, Brown says in a statement that Kitzhaber summoned her back to Oregon, only to act surprised she had returned. “I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition. This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.”
And yet, Kitzhaber appears, for now, to be fighting on.
What’s perhaps most surprising about Kitzhaber’s myriad troubles is that he’s hardly the kind of wet-behind-the-ears politician that usually falls victim to this kind of thing. He’s now in his fourth term as governor after returning to the office in 2010 and winning reelection just three months ago. And he’s been in Oregon politics — also serving in both the state House and state Senate — for most of the past four decades.
In fact, were Kitzhaber to manage to complete his current term, he would have essentially tied for the second-longest-tenured governor in American history, according to data compiled by the Smart Politics team.
Only six men have served what amounts to four full terms. That includes Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), who is in his record sixth term, and it is likely to soon include California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) when he is termed out of office after his fourth term in 2019. The other five who fit the bill are former South Dakota governor Bill Janklow (R), former Alabama governor George Wallace (D), former Ohio governor Jim Rhodes (R), former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt (D) and former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards (D).
Janklow succumbed to non-political wrongdoing after his four terms, resigning from the U.S. House shortly after winning his seat due to a vehicular manslaughter conviction. Edwards, of course, had his own political corruption issues, but was able to win a fourth term in 1991 in spite of them.
The mustachioed Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, has never been known for a flashy style, often opting for a cowboy hat and jeans. He was known in his first stint as governor as “Dr. No” for his frequent vetoes, but he returned this decade with a different style that rubbed far fewer people the wrong way.
But some of the seeds of resentment are clearly still there. And now Kitzhaber finds himself in a situation in which he probably wishes he had accumulated some more allies over his 12-plus years in office.