Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s resignation caps months of growing concerns – Los Angeles Times
Rumors swirled for years, prosecution documents piled up, but each time a whiff of impropriety surfaced, Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes managed to distance herself.
Her first brush with a state investigation was in 2010, when the Oregon attorney general’s office began tracking her relationship to a state Department of Energy bid.
For months, concerns over what Gov. John Kitzhaber has called the “gray area” between his 47-year-old fiancee’s private and professional lives haunted the longtime politician — through his 2010 election, his third term in office, his historic bid for a fourth term and the weeks since his January inauguration.
Kitzhaber’s problems came to a head Friday, when the former emergency room physician resigned from office, effective Feb. 18. His decision came after a week of political drama, which Secretary of State Kate Brown called “bizarre and unprecedented” and which has absorbed this normally quiet capital.
Under the state constitution, Brown will become Oregon’s 37th governor. When she takes the oath of office, she will be the nation’s first openly bisexual chief executive. Like Kitzhaber, she is a Democrat.
With journalists packed into the anteroom of his office Friday waiting for the governor to appear, Kitzhaber announced his resignation just after noon via an emailed news release. The document was posted on his official website, along with an audio file of the governor reading the announcement aloud.
“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,” said Kitzhaber, 67, who has not been seen in public since Wednesday. “As a former presiding officer [of the state Senate], I fully understand the reasons for which I have been asked to resign.”
The state Government Ethics Commission is investigating whether Hayes falsified tax forms and was paid consulting fees to influence her future husband, and just what Kitzhaber’s involvement may have been. On Monday, the state attorney general announced she had begun a criminal investigation into the troubled first couple.
Hours after the governor announced his plans to step down, the U.S. attorney for Oregon subpoenaed all of the state’s electronic records concerning Kitzhaber and Hayes.
The subpoena, issued Friday, makes clear that Kitzhaber’s troubles will not necessarily end with his departure from office. The demand for the massive trove of records, issued to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, seeks “all information, records, and documents” for both Hayes and Kitzhaber.
The latest chapter in the Kitzhaber-Hayes saga began in October, when Willamette Week, a Portland alternative newspaper, rolled out the first of two reports documenting the degree and scope of Hayes’ influence in the governor’s office and the rewards her efforts have paid to her private contracting business.
It was less than a month before election day, and Kitzhaber’s supporters derided the report as an October surprise meant to knock the governor off his stride. Kitzhaber won reelection easily. Months passed and it seemed that once again, Hayes had found a way to sidestep trouble.
But by late January, the governor’s office finally responded to public records requests from the media, and the products of those requests threatened to bring Hayes down — and her fiance along with her.
There were details about Hayes’ alleged efforts to steer jobs to friendly firms, her liberal use of the governor’s office to schedule private meetings, her dual roles as the governor’s energy advisor and a professional clean-energy advocate.
Hayes had grown up poor in rural Washington state, in a household that sometimes didn’t have running water. After winning an academic and athletic scholarship to the state’s Evergreen State College, she fashioned a career as an energy consultant in Bend, Ore.