Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced today that he will resign office effective February 18, leaving Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown to assume the office until a general election is held in 2016. The resignation comes after a bizarre week that found the 67 year old governor deciding to resign and changing his mind at least twice.
Initially rocked by scandal after alternative newsweekly Willamette Week first reported on possible influence peddling after learning that Kitzhaber’s fiancé, Cyvlvia Hayes had obtained private consulting contracts obtained from advocacy groups, the governor maintained that he and Hayes had taken steps to avoid conflicts of interests. But the Attorney General announced there would be a criminal probe, which is anticipated to continue even after Kitzhaber leaves office.
The contracts in question amounted to more than $200,000 and would also benefit Kitzhaber as he shares a home with Hayes. The initial reporting dated back to October, but this week brought calls to resign from several key officeholders of Kitzhaber’s own Democratic party, including the Attorney General and the President of the State Senate.
Kitzhaber’s political capital started to wane after a 20 minute press conference he called on January 30 to discuss a previously undisclosed $118,000 in contracts Hayes received in 2011 and 2012 and the possibility she failed to report the income on her tax returns. Willamette Week described the governor’s handling of the press conference as evasive.
Earlier this week, Kitzhaber summoned Secretary of State Kate Brown from a conference in Washington, D.C.as part of an apparent decision to resign, but informed her when she arrived back in Oregon that he would retain his office. Brown described her meeting with the governor as bizarre, even disclosing that he asked why she had come back early from D.C.
Kitzhaber had just been elected to an unprecedented fourth term as governor and would have served through 2018.
Governor Kitzhaber’s Resignation Transcript
Resignation effective at 10 a.m., Wednesday, February 18, 2015
I am announcing today that I will resign as Governor of the State of Oregon.
It is not in my nature to walk away from a job I have undertaken – it is to stand and fight for the cause. For that reason I apologize to all those people who gave of their faith, time, energy and resources to elect me to a fourth term last year and who have supported me over the past three decades. I promise you that I will continue to pursue our shared goals and our common cause in another venue.
I must also say that it is deeply troubling to me to realize that we have come to a place in the history of this great state of ours where a person can be charged, tried, convicted and sentenced by the media with no due process and no independent verification of the allegations involved. But even more troubling – and on a very personal level as someone who has given 35 years of public service to Oregon – is that so many of my former allies in common cause have been willing to simply accept this judgment at its face value.
It is something that is hard for me to comprehend – something we might expect in Washington, D.C. but surely not in Oregon. I do not know what it means for our shared future but I do know that it is seriously undermining civic engagement in this state and the quality of the public discourse that once made Oregon stand out from the pack.
Nonetheless, I understand that I have become a liability to the very institutions and policies to which I have dedicated my career and, indeed, my entire adult life. As a former presiding officer I fully understand the reasons for which I have been asked to resign. I wish Speaker Kotek and President Courtney and their colleagues on both sides of the aisle success in this legislative session and beyond. And I hope that they are truly committed to carrying forward the spirit of bipartisanship and collaboration that has marked the last four years in Oregon.
In 1968 I was inspired to commit my life to public service by the last campaign of Robert Kennedy. Forty-one years ago I started work as an emergency room doctor in Roseburg with a goal to make life better for those in my care. Ever since then, I have sought to keep that focus by trying to make things better for the people and the communities of this state that I love. I have had the extraordinary privilege of pursuing that work as a State Representative, State Senator, Senate President and as your Governor.
Over those years, I have had the honor to be a part of some remarkable achievements.
We responded to the worst recession and financial crisis since the Great Depression by rebuilding an Oregon economy that has added jobs and vitality in many regions of our state. And, unlike many other parts of our nation, we did it together with cooperation and respect for Oregon and for each other.
We successfully defended Oregon’s spectacular natural heritage of clean water, clean air, forests, farmland and special places. We created the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds and nearly 90 watershed councils.
We have also found ways to support our rural communities and to create jobs in our natural resources industries while enhancing the environment.
When forces of intolerance sought to divide us we stood up for the principal that every Oregonian deserves respect and basic rights – including the right to choose and the right to marry the person we love.
And I am proud that Oregon has not invoked the death penalty during my last four years on the watch.
We have stood by our working men and women steadfastly supporting collective bargaining and the right to form a union.
We have transformed our health care system, improving access and quality while lowering costs through our new Coordinated Care Organizations. Tonight over 95 percent of Oregonians will go to bed knowing that they have health insurance coverage. We did that together.
In a three-day special session we reformed our public pension system, provided tax relief to small businesses and raised new revenue for mental health and for public education — the foundation of our future.
We have passionately pursued the goal of equity and opportunity – especially for those Oregonians who have been left behind: communities of color, English language learners and those in poverty, those in the rural parts of our state, the very young and the very old.
We have laid the groundwork for eliminating the achievement gap and ensuring that over 90 percent of our children could be reading at level in 3rd grade within five years.
And we are poised to reach agreements that will resolve the century-old water crisis in the Klamath Basin and expand irrigated agriculture in the Umatilla.
As important as what we have accomplished – how we have accomplished it is perhaps even more important. We have had a great tradition of overcoming partisan differences in this state and doing what is right for Oregon. That tradition had faltered, but over the past four years we have rebuilt a functional political center, reaching across party lines to do difficult, important things by reducing polarization and building community to help right the ship and chart a better course for our future.
I ran for a fourth term as your governor to continue that progress. But the questions that have been raised about my administration – specifically allegations against me concerning the work done by my fiancé Cylvia Hayes and the contracts she obtained during my last term – and the escalating media frenzy that has stemmed from this – has clearly reached the point of no return.
I am confident that I have not broken any laws nor taken any actions that were dishonest or dishonorable in their intent or outcome. That is why I asked both the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General to take a full and comprehensive look at my actions – and I will continue to fully cooperate with those ongoing efforts. I am equally confident that once they have been concluded Oregonians will see that I have never put anything before my love for and commitment to Oregon and faithfully fulfilling the responsibilities of the public offices I have held
But it is also clear that this process will take months.
I have always had the deepest respect for the remarkable institution that is the Oregon Legislature; and for the office of the Governor. And I cannot in good conscience continue to be the element that undermines it. I have always tried to do the right thing and now the right thing to do is to step aside.
One thing I hope people know about me is that I love this state and its people, its rivers, its mountains and its landscapes with every fiber of my being. It is because of that love that I tender my resignation as Governor, effective at 10 a.m. on February 18, 2015. Secretary of State Kate Brown will take the oath of office as Oregon’s Governor at that time. Oregon will be in good hands and I wish her well.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you and our state. It has been the honor of my life. And I believe I can say that looking back over those years we have left it better than we found it.