Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown
Oregon's Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber just started the second term of his unprecedented second governorship. It's about to end. In the midst of a widening scandal involving allegations of influence-peddling by Kitzhaber and his fiancee Cylvia Hayes, which increasingly looks to be compounded by a desperate attempt at a cover-up, Oregon's Democratic leaders are calling for Kitzhaber to resign
. Before going public, they reportedly told Kitzhaber privately.
Oregon has no Lieutenant Governor, so the line of succession leads through Secretary of State Kate Brown, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, Senate President Peter Courtney, and Speaker of the House Tina Kotek. All are Democrats. Brown also is president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, and was abruptly called back from their national meeting in Washington, DC by Kitzhaber Tuesday night, for a face to face meeting, as rumors swirled that he was about to resign. Wednesday, Kitzhaber announced he was not resigning, and the purpose of his urgent meeting with Brown looked inexplicable. Today, Brown issued a statement describing the events as "clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation."
As next in the line of succession, Brown appropriately has said nothing more. She can't be seen as chomping to succeed Kitzhaber. Those in line after her, however, can speak, and today Wheeler, Courtney, and Kotek all called on Kitzhaber to resign. More evidence of a cover-up also came to light today, with reports that last week Kitzhaber's office asked capitol techs to delete thousands of his personal emails from state servers. The techs refused. It was previously reported that Kitzhaber also sought a personal meeting with Democratic State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, as she considered launching an investigation into his actions. Rosenblum's office informed Kitzhaber's office that if they met, she would not discuss Hayes or the associated issues.
Oregon's leading newspaper, The Oregonian, a right wing rag that has been reduced to a small tabloid and only four days a week delivery, gets a big win, here. When reports emerged last fall that long before she met Kitzhaber, Hayes had illegally accepted payment for marrying a foreign national so he could become an American citizen, Oregonian writers immediately began calling it a political scandal, even though Kitzhaber was not involved, and clearly was shell-shocked by the revelation. But that turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, and it now seems clear that Kitzhaber's years of leadership and accomplishment, including establishing one of the nation's first state health insurance options, have been undermined by his personal loyalty to a person whose loyalty to Kitzhaber took a back seat to her own personal ambitions. But he is responsible for his behavior, and his behavior appears to have been unethical and possibly criminal.
Both Kitzhaber and Hayes have retained criminal defense attorneys, and as the state's Democratic leaders have made clear, his need to address his possible criminal culpability makes it impossible for him to perform his functions of governor. The state's Democratic legislative majorities were strengthened in November's elections, and Kitzhaber and those Democratic majorities have an agenda that includes strong new environmental protections and expanded educational opportunities. State leaders rightly don't want Kitzhaber's personal problems to become distractions from implementing that agenda.