Gov. John Kitzhaber in happier times
• OR-Gov: Wednesday and Thursday were two of the most tumultuous days in the usually staid political history of Oregon, as Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber's fortunes yo-yoed back and forth between looking like he's in an embarrassing but survivable scandal, and looking like the end of his career is imminent.
Kitzhaber's troubles result from slow-building concerns over his whether his fiancée's consulting activities on clean energy issues broke conflict-of-interest laws. The story didn't get much notice even in the Beaver State until last week, when an editorial from the state's largest paper, the Oregonian, demanded the governor's resignation. Kitzhaber requested that Democratic Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum open an investigation into the matter, which raised some more eyebrows but didn't suggest his situation was collapsing. Republicans launched a recall campaign but faced tough hurdles getting it onto the ballot, and learned that they couldn't even begin collecting signatures until July. As Wednesday began, Kitzhaber's situation didn't look great, but it didn't look dire.
Few were prepared for what happened next. Head over the fold for a look at two chaotic days that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Wednesday was, in the words of the Salem Statesman-Journal's Dick Hughes, "one of the strangest days I've experienced in nearly 40 years of covering Oregon politics." The day started with Secretary of State Kate Brown (the next in line for the governorship, since Oregon doesn't have a lieutenant governor) flying back prematurely from a D.C. conference of the nation's secretaries of state. Rumors quickly swept the capitol that a John Kitzhaber resignation was imminent, something the governor's office didn't contradict. Kitzhaber spent the day meeting with legislative leaders, and it looked likely that he was about to announce his departure.
But by day's end, he'd issued a (rather lukewarm) statement that he wasn't resigning, and that he'll let the investigations run their course. That very evening, stories started appearing that Kitzhaber had, in fact, decided on Tuesday to resign, but then decided on Wednesday to change course and stick around, after talking with his attorney (who, presumably, showed Kitzhaber that he may have a decent legal case; the legal question turns on whether Kitzhaber and the person he isn't married to still form a "household").
That was nothing compared to Thursday's news, though. After having had only noncommittal things to say on the matter before, Brown seemed to give Kitzhaber a nudge (if not more of a shove) toward the door. Her new statement leaked some details of her rather disjointed conversation with Kitzhaber after he called her back from Washington:
He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange. 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.
That seemed to break the dam. Other Democratic officials in Oregon, who'd also previously kept their public statements as judgment-free as possible, started openly called for Kitzhaber's resignation, including Senate President Peter Courtney
and state Treasurer Ted Wheeler
. According to state Sen. Rod Monroe, Courtney and state House Speaker Tina Kotek asked Kitzhaber in person to resign on Thursday morning, but Kitzhaber declined
at that time.
By the end of Thursday, it was looking pretty clear that the situation was no longer survivable for the governor. There were continued leaks that Kitzhaber was moving ahead with transition plans; Kitzhaber's chief of staff and legislative liaison also quit on him. More alarmingly, in case anyone was still retaining any benefit of the doubt for Kitzhaber, the Willamette Week broke the story that he had sought to delete thousands of e-mails last week but that state technicians had refused to do so, and Kitzhaber retained a criminal defense attorney. At this point, it seems very likely that we'll see a resignation on Friday or soon afterwards.
You may be wondering how things went south on Kitzhaber so fast, especially since the allegations concern activities that would barely raise an eyebrow in other states with less of a reputation for clean politics. There's a novel legal question here (the "household" issue), meaning if Kitzhaber were determined to stay, he could probably stall the issue in the courts for years.
The New York Times' coverage of the story drills down to the root problem for Kitzhaber, though: Although Oregon has a Democratic-controlled legislature and there's broad policy agreement between the legislative and executive branches, Kitzhaber doesn't have a lot of personal allies in the state government. That's the same sort of problem that took down Eliot Spitzer in New York, who had a potentially survivable legal scandal but no friends to back him up.
It's not so much a question of a grating style, though, but simply that Kitzhaber is pretty introverted, and there aren't a lot of legislators left who were around during his more successful gubernatorial terms in the 1990s. Kitzhaber just sort of drifted back into office in 2010 based on lingering goodwill among the voters who remembered his first time around, but he didn't bring with him the personal relationships that could have made the difference for him in his hour of need. If anything, it's a reminder that the line between failure and success in politics doesn't have much to do with the tip-of-the-iceberg stuff that makes the evening news, but rather is almost entirely about the behind-the-scenes interpersonal, transactional stuff that's usually far from the public eye.
• CA-Sen: Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris continues to unveil endorsement after endorsement, and her latest comes from the backyard of potential rival and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The Los Angeles Police Protective League backed her on Wednesday; she previously earned the support of L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson, a former Villaraigosa ally.
As the Los Angeles Times notes, plenty of law enforcement groups opposed Harris during her 2010 campaign for attorney general over her refusal to seek the death penalty for a cop killer. She's worked hard to win them over since then, and this endorsement only emphasizes how their relationship has changed in the last few years.
• MI-07: A few days ago, state Rep. Gretchen Driskell kicked off her campaign to unseat Republican Rep. Tim Walberg in this light red southeast Michigan seat. Driskell has the support of Mark Schauer, the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee who represented the last version of this district from 2009 to 2011, but she may have some primary competition to deal with. Kyle Melinn of MIRS reports that 2014 nominee Pam Byrnes is considering another run here, though Byrnes herself doesn't appear to have said much publicly about her plans.
Byrnes raised a good amount of money last time around, but the Republican wave sunk her 53-41. Byrnes would almost certainly perform better in a less-hostile climate, though it's unclear at this point whether national Democrats would prefer a fresh face like Driskell or think that Byrnes was a good candidate in a bad year.
• MS-01: No one has officially kicked off their campaign to replace the late Republican Rep. Alan Nunnelee in the upcoming special, but several politicians are making their interest (or lack of it) known. No Democrats have made any moves to run so far, but a few Republicans are scouting out the seat.
The Commercial Dispatch tells us that Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert has confirmed that he's thinking about it, though he lives just outside the district. State Court of Appeals Judge Jimmy Maxwell is also interested, but he and Tagert are unlikely to run against each other. It sounds like Tagert has the right of first refusal, but plenty of observers think that Maxwell would be a tough candidate if he went for it.
Via the Desoto Times Tribune, we also learn that Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson and state Sen. David Parker have dipped their feet in the water. State Sen. Gray Tollison also did not rule out a campaign on Thursday. Tollison would likely have plenty of support from the Republican establishment, though he earned plenty of detractors after he switched parties in 2011 just days after winning re-election as a Democrat.
There are a ton of other Republicans who could run here but have yet to say anything on the record, and Sam Hall of the Clarion-Ledger and Emily Cahn of Roll Call give us plenty of names. One interesting rumor floating around is that Alan Nunnelee's widow Tori could run in the special election, but wouldn't seek a full term afterwards. Instead, the couple's son Reed, a lawyer, would run in 2016. Beyond them, we have:
• 2011 Public Service Commission nominee Boyce Adams
• State Sen. Nancy Collins
• State Treasurer Lynn Fitch
• Former state Sen. Merle Flowers
• Alcorn County District Attorney Trent Kelly
• Former Tupelo Mayor and 2008 candidate Glenn McCullough
• Itawamba County District Attorney Chip Mills
• Businessman John Oxford
• Former Eupora Mayor and 2010/2 candidate Henry Ross
• Former gubernatorial chief counsel Amanda Tollison (wife of Gray Tollison)
• Former NFL player and former state Senate and Oxford mayoral candidate Todd Wade
• Former Jackson Councilor Quentin Whitwell
Two Republicans have ruled out a run. State Rep. Brad Mayo was initially touted by local operatives, but he quickly made it clear that he'll seek re-election instead. Corinth Mayor Tommy Irwin also has declined a bid.
The Democratic field is a lot smaller, and we can already cross off two names. Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley are two of the state party's only rising stars, but both of them made it clear that they won't seek this Romney 62-37 seat. Former Rep. Travis Childers hasn't said anything about his plans, but he doesn't seem incredibly excited about jumping in.
In Mississippi special elections, all the candidates run on one non-partisan primary ballot. If no one takes a majority, the two candidates with the most votes advance to the non-partisan runoff. There's a good chance that we'll end up with a Republican versus Republican duel in the general election, especially if Democrats fail to field anyone credible.
• DCCC: One of the few upsides to being on the wrong side of a wave is that you don't have that many seats to defend in the next cycle. Nevertheless, the DCCC has unveiled the first 14 members of its Frontline Program, which is dedicated to protecting vulnerable incumbents. Roll Call tells us who's in, and we've included the Obama-Romney numbers for each district in parentheses, and each member's 2014 performance in brackets:
• Ann Kirkpatrick, AZ-01 (48-50) [53-47]
• Kyrsten Sinema, AZ-09 (51-47) [55-42]
• Ami Bera, CA-07 (51-47) [50-50]
• Julia Brownley, CA-26 (54-44) [51-49]
• Pete Aguilar, CA-31 (57-41) [52-48]
• Raul Ruiz, CA-36 (51-48) [54-46]
• Scott Peters, CA-52 (52-46) [52-48]
• Gwen Graham, FL-02 (47-52) [50-49]
• Patrick Murphy, FL-18 (48-52) [60-40]
• Cheri Bustos, IL-17 (58-41) [55-45]
• Rick Nolan, MN-08 (52-46) [49-47]
• Brad Ashford, NE-02 (46-53) [49-46]
• Annie Kuster, NH-02 (54-45) [55-45]
• Sean Patrick Maloney, NY-18 (51-47) [50-48]
There aren't too many surprises here. Most of these members either had close wins in 2014 or represent competitive districts. While people like Raul Ruiz and Patrick Murphy pulled off decisive victories over weak opponents last time, there's no guarantee that they won't draw stronger foes in 2016 (though Murphy may run for U.S. Senate instead).
Annie Kuster looks comfortable in her blue seat on paper, but New Hampshire politics is unpredictable enough that it pays to be prepared for anything. Cheri Bustos' placement on this list is a little harder to figure out. Still, her Democratic predecessor Phil Hare lost a similar seat in a 2010 surprise, so the DCCC may decide it's better to be safe than sorry. Pete Aguilar should have an easier time in 2014 with presidential turnout, but his weak 2014 win does justify his initial presence here.
As Kyle Kondik points out, the most notable omission may be Colin Peterson of MN-07. Peterson represents a seat Romney won 54-44, and the GOP seriously targeted him for the first time last year, though they fell far short of beating him. Peterson doesn't appear to have been on the list last time, though the DCCC did end up spending on his behalf.
• Chicago Mayor: Not long after Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia went on the air with his first spot, Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded with his first negative ad of the race. Rahm's commercial portrays Garcia as corrupt, before highlighting the mayor's record.
We're not too far away from the Feb. 24 primary, where Rahm is hoping to win a majority and avert an April runoff. His new negative tone may be a sign that he's worried that the commissioner is gaining support. Most polls show Rahm a bit away from a majority with plenty of voters undecided, and the mayor will want to do whatever he can to make Garcia an unacceptable option for voters.
Then again, it's sometimes quite hard to read the tealeaves from campaign ads. Last year in NY-19, the NRCC and Republican Rep. Chris Gibson continued to attack Democrat Sean Eldridge only days away from the election, and we wondered if Eldridge might be a lot stronger than his poll numbers suggested. No such luck: Gibson won 64-35. Rahm is definitely at least being cautious with his new negative spot, but it's unclear if he's really afraid that Garica's ads will drag him into a runoff.
• Philadelphia Mayor: Businessman Sam Katz has one foot in the "perpetual candidate: camp (he nearly won the mayoral race in 1999 as the Republican nominee, but also had less successful runs in 1991 and 2003), but he may yet have a faint path to victory here in the general election. He floated his name earlier for this year's mayoral election without making clear whether he'd do it as a Democrat or an independent (he's had each of D, R, and I after his name at various points -- he's very moderate, if not liberal, and was more of a Mike Bloomberg-style Republican-out-of-convenience). As of Thursday he seems to have settled on an approach, re-registering as an independent, which seems to telegraph Run #4.
One other potential candidate has decided against joining the race though. Democratic city Controller Alan Butkovitz pulled the plug on his nascent campaign back in November, but began reconsidering after his ally, Council President Darrell Clarke, declined to jump in. However, Butkovitz reaffirmed last week that he'll stay out.
• Special Elections: Via Johnny Longtorso:
Iowa HD-23: The Republicans easily held this seat: David Sieck defeated Democrat Steve Adams by a 73-27 margin.
• DNC: On Thursday, the Democratic National Committee announced that the party's 2016 national convention will take place in Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love beat out two other finalists: Brooklyn, New York and Columbus, Ohio. Republicans will hold their convention in Cleveland. Both events are scheduled for July.
• Great Mentioner: North Dakota Republicans are accustomed to easy gubernatorial wins, but 2016 may be different. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is considering taking on Gov. Jack Dalrymple; while she'd be the underdog in this conservative state, there's no doubt that Heitkamp is a very tough candidate who can pull off a surprise. Dalrymple may also retire, setting off a crowded primary to succeed him. In our new Daily Kos Great Mentioner piece, we take a look at which Republicans could run if Dalrymple bails, and what other Democrats may be interested in an open seat race.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Taniel, and Dreaminonempty.