Chronicling Gov. Kitzhaber’s march to resignation

021115-kitzhaber-jekaplan14-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Recapping a wild week featuring plenty of will he or won’t he resign drama.

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      Gov. John Kitzhaber. | Photo by Jason E. Kaplan

A series of events that lead one to believe resignation is inevitable

Secretary of State Kate Brown, Oregon’s next governor if John Kitzhaber resigns, returned early from a conference in Washington D.C. Wednesday, setting off a whirlwind of rumors that Kitzhaber’s resignation was imminent.

The Associated Press reported about 9:30 a.m. that the SOS was on a plane back from D.C.:

A spokesman for Brown, Tony Green, says he doesn’t know why Brown left the conference for the National Association of Secretaries of State. She is president of the organization. Green says she’s due into Portland Wednesday afternoon.

Kitzhaber is facing the biggest crisis of his nearly four-decade political career. Newspapers have called for his resignation over influence-peddling allegations surrounding his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. The state attorney general has launched a criminal investigation.

If Kitzhaber were to step down, Brown would assume the role of governor until the next general election. 

About 2:30 p.m. — with speculation swirling — Kitzhaber issued a statement saying he will not step down despite the rumors.

Here is the statement in full:

“Let me be as clear as I was last week, that I have no intention of resigning as Governor of the state of Oregon. I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state and I intend to continue to do so.”

So, what happened? Why did Brown hop on a flight back to Oregon if she wasn’t going to be assuming the top office?

It turns out, as Kitzhaber told KGW, the governor wanted to tell Brown in person that he would not resign — from the Statesman Journal:

“As a matter of respect, I called the secretary of state, I think it was also Tuesday, and told her that I’d like to speak to her. We met privately today and I told her again my intention was not to resign. She is … next in line and any decision to resign would obviously affect her.”

When asked why he didn’t just call Brown, Kitzhaber told KGW, “Because she is the secretary of state, and it’s not the kind of conversation I wanted to have on the phone. … I wanted to have a face-to-face with Kate and make sure that she understood what my intentions were.”​

Peculiar reasoning, which an report disputes as it indicates that Kitzhaber did indeed plan on resigning:

The governor met with Senate President Peter Courtney on Tuesday to talk about where he – and equally important, the legislative projects that are central to  his legacy – stood.

He then met with House Speaker Tina Kotek for the same discussion. At issue: the damage to his work from the onslaught of news reports, day after day over the past two weeks, raising questions about his fiancee’s propriety in her state work and on federal tax forms, and ultimately, his own ethical standards in addressing it. The message wasn’t good. He had lost credibility. The projects he planned to devote the next four years instituting were in danger of being drowned in the rising tide of controversy.

But a meeting with his attorney Jim McDermott and fiancee Cylvia Hayes changed the governor’s mind. After that meeting, McDermott issued his statement saying Kitzhaber would not step down — as reported by

“I have every reason to believe the governor will stay in office,” McDermott said in a telephone interview. “As a citizen and his lawyer, I certainly hope and expect he will be staying in office.”

Just before midday Thursday, Kate Brown issued the following statement on this ongoing saga:

Late Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from the Governor while I was in Washington, DC at a Secretaries of State conference. He asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.

I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. I was escorted directly into a meeting with the Governor. It was a brief meeting. 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.

I informed the Governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign. Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon.

The strangeness continued Thursday afternoon when Senate Democrats asked Kitzhaber to resign and suggested he would resign by the end of the day. reports:

Senate President Peter Courtney and House Majority Leader Tina Kotek met with Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday morning and told him it was time to resign, according to multiple sources.

As if things could get much worse for Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday, the Willamette Week published a report Thursday afternoon that found the governor tried to have thousands of his emails destroyed but state workers refused to carry out his wishes.

From the WW report:

The request for destruction of records came while Kitzhaber was promising to be open and honest with Oregonians about the allegations against him and Hayes. The records indicate that state employees refused to carry out the request from Kitzhaber’s assistant to destroy emails.Oregon law makes it a crime to improperly destroy or tamper with public records or evidence. Evidence includes “part of official proceeding which is then pending or to the knowledge of such person is about to be instituted.” 

One observer says the timing of the request raises concern: “At a very minimum, it shows consciousness of guilt,” says Tung Yin, who teaches criminal law at Lewis & Clark Law School. “Why else would you suddenly start destroying documents?”

Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum then ordered Hayes to release her emails, the Associated Press reported:

A lawyer for Hayes had urged Rosenblum to reject the newspaper’s request, saying she’s not a public official.

But Rosenblum said Hayes’ “high-level involvement in the executive branch of Oregon’s state government” makes her a public official and emails discussing public business are subject to disclosure.

Meanwhile, Kitzhaber has followed Hayes’ suit and has shuffled his legal team. reports that he has hired Janet Hoffman, a Portland criminal attorney, to represent him:

“Any person facing an investigation by the state attorney general’s office would get an appropriate counsel to respond to the inquiry,” Hoffman said Thursday.

Hoffman said it’s her hope that the governor can serve out his term: “He has been an outstanding representative of the state of Oregon throughout his career, and I would hope that the party would give him the time and space to continue to govern,” Hoffman said. “I hope he can continue to serve the remainder of his term and make valuable contributions to the state.”


The will-he or won’t-he saga aside, many believe the governor is still going to resign before the end of his term, but on what terms?

And, as the Portland Business Journal reports, if Kitzhaber is stay in office, it’s hard to imagine he’ll have much of a mandate to lead. Advocates for clean energy fear that the scandal will undo the achievements the governor has earned in his time in office:

Sean Penrith, executive director of The Climate Trust, a Portland nonprofit that works to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, fears the scandal could have an outsized impact on those initiatives.

“My sense is that pricing carbon and the (Clean Fuels Program) are going to suffer from his lack of attention given the debacles he is imbued in.”

The media and the scandal

Brown’s flight back from D.C. started the rampant speculation about the future of the governor’s office, and it all started with a tweet from an MSNBC reporter (see below), the PBJ reports.

From the PBJ:

Willamette Week noticed the message and quickly wrote a blog further suggesting Brown’s return may be tied to a Kitzhaber resignation. Most news outlets across the state — including this one — published something similar over the next couple of hours.

Soon, phone calls went out to every politico in the state as outlets clamored to break the big story. TV reporters lined up at the airport, TMZ-style, waiting to confront the Secretary of State. Eyes were glued to Twitter.

How’s this for a lesson of circular logic? The media staked out Kitzhaber’s Salem home, then police responded by providing a presence outside his house, which the media breathlessly reported as a sign of something developing.

Turns out, the deputies were there to make sure the governor could access his home despite the media.

The Statesman Journal reports:

Oregon State Police provides security for Kitzhaber, but sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Ray says the agency requested extra help because of the large media presence.

Ray says troopers wanted to ensure they can freely come and go from the governor’s home in southwest Portland. Four sheriff’s vehicles are stationed in the area, but Ray says nobody expects any problems.

Brown as next governor?

Brown being so close to assuming office comes with a dose of irony as she has gotten flak in recent weeks as she was accused of letting Comcast ghostwrite a letter to the FCC regarding a pending Time Warner deal, reported on Jan. 28.

It remains to be seen if that perceived problematic relationship will be explored further in the future.


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