Gov. Brown addresses ethics issues that cost Kitzhaber his job

New governor sends ethics and transparency reforms to legislature; commits to predecessor’s early-education plan.

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Gov. Kate Brown sent a package of proposed ethics and transparency reforms to the Oregon Legislature Wednesday as a response to the scandal that led to John Kitzhaber’s resignation.

The new policies would call for steeper fines for public officials using their positions for personal gain as well as curbing the top state official’s influence over the ethics commission, the Portland Tribune reports.

“Oregon’s government belongs to its people, and an informed, engaged populace is essential to democracy,” Brown said in the PT story. “Another essential element is trust, and rebuilding that trust begins now. These reforms are designed to ensure the timely fulfillment of public records requests, to hold public officials accountable, and foster a culture of transparency.”

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission was also investigating Kitzhaber and former first lady Cylvia Hayes’ actions, although both state investigations were placed on hold until the federal inquiry is complete. Brown’s proposal would end the requirement in state law that the commission put its inquiry on hold during any criminal investigation. The bill would also require some members of the ethics commission to be appointed by statewide elected officials other than the governor. Currently, the governor directly appoints three members of the ethics commission, and four are selected by the party caucuses in the Legislature.

Brown also wants the first spouse or governor’s partner and all other advisers to the governor to file disclosures of any potential conflicts of interest. Hayes never filed the financial disclosures, despite serving as an unpaid adviser to Kitzhaber on economic development and energy issues that overlapped with her contracting business. The ethics commission had sought legislation for a similar expansion of transparency in the governor’s office last year, but that effort was rebuffed by the Kitzhaber administration, as first reported by Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau in February.

Also on Wednesday, Brown reiterated her support for Kitzhaber’s early-education plan.

Brown called the funding “absolutely critical” in a meeting with the Oregonian editorial board.

Kitzhaber’s budget, which Brown has inherited, called for more than $130 million for early education, to be spent on programs such as subsidized day care ($55 million), an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs ($35 million), and money for new regional boards to spend on local early childhood services ($20 million). The Legislature’s Ways and Means committee did not match that funding in its own proposed budget framework.

“I’m very committed to the early childhood education package,” Brown said. “I know that the co-chairs” of the committee “haven’t funded that specifically in the budget. I look forward to wrestling with them about how to get additional resources.”

With shakeup in governor’s mansion, who is the favorite in 2016?

Brown’s unexpected ascendancy to the governorship has created a “wide-open” field for the next election.

If Brown wants to finish out Kitzhaber’s term, she will have to win an election in 2016, the Portland Tribune writes.

If she does run, expect Republicans — who have not elected one of their own as governor since Vic Atiyeh won re-election in 1982 — to mount a serious challenge. As secretary of state, Brown has won twice statewide, but each victory was by 51 percent in a multiple-candidate field in a presidential election year.

It’s not clear who Republicans would field; their legislative bench has been thin, even though they have promising candidates for the future. But Allen Alley, a Lake Oswego high-tech executive and former party chairman who also was the GOP nominee for state treasurer in 2008 and a candidate for governor in 2010, might decide to make another run this time. He passed up a 2014 bid against Kitzhaber. Former state Rep. Dennis Richardson, the party’s nominee against Kitzhaber last year, could feel he was vindicated. But he still lost to a politically weakened Kitzhaber by 5 percentage points, and did poorly in Multnomah and Washington counties.