Ore. Governor Resigns Amid Ethics Investigation

Feb 13, 2015
Originally published on February 13, 2015 6:29 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The governor of Oregon says he will leave office next week. Democrat John Kitzhaber has been under pressure to resign amid ethics investigations related to his fiancee's consulting work. In a prerecorded announcement released today, he maintained he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER: I am confident that I have not broken any laws, nor taken any actions that were dishonest or dishonorable in their intent or in their outcome.

MARTIN: Joining us from the Oregon State Capitol in Salem is Chris Lehman. He's with the Northwest News Network.

Chris, what do we know about the specifics of the ethics allegations the governor has been facing?

CHRIS LEHMAN: Well, Governor Kitzhaber and his first lady, Cylvia Hayes, are accused of accepting contracts from groups that wanted to shape public policy. Cylvia Hayes in particular is interested in clean energy policies. The governor is also accused of looking the other way as first lady Hayes was taking this money. The governor is also accused of helping to find jobs in state government for people who were involved in these private interest groups that were funneling money to the first lady.

MARTIN: These allegations first came out in newspaper investigations last fall. Then they were picked up by the governor's political Republican opponents. This week, Democratic leadership in Oregon started to call for his resignation. So what happened? Why the change?

LEHMAN: Well, there was a significant development this week, and that was that the Oregon Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into these allegations. So, that of course raised the stakes immensely. The prospect of a lengthy public investigation meant that Governor Kitzhaber quickly began to lose the support of his former allies. There was also talk of launching a recall campaign, though that would not have been possible until this summer, due to state law.

MARTIN: Some of these ethics questions arose months ago, before Kitzhaber was re-elected this past November. So what do you know about why now, why is he stepping down?

LEHMAN: Well, I think the first thing we should say is that the governor has sort of waffled back and forth all week on whether he was going to resign. He actually issued a statement on Wednesday saying he wasn't going anywhere. But it became clear that the level of political distraction and the loss of credibility among his own party members was reaching a boiling point, legislative leaders this week saying that they think the governor should step down. It's unclear whether he could actually govern at this point, whether his staff was going to stick around. And it's also worth mentioning that even though he is leaving office next Wednesday, the criminal investigation that's underway will continue.

MARTIN: Chris, what can you tell us about who might replace the governor when he leaves office next week?

LEHMAN: Oregon doesn't have a lieutenant governor. The line of succession here is the secretary of state takes over. Her name is Kate Brown. She's also a Democrat. She has previously served in the state legislature. As a Democrat, she does agree with many of Governor Kitzhaber's policies. That said, one thing a lot of people have their eye on is the governor issued a moratorium on the death penalty in Oregon a few years ago, so it's unclear whether Kate Brown will continue that freeze on executions. She'll be the second woman to be the governor of Oregon and the first openly LGBT person to serve as governor.

MARTIN: Chris Lehman, of the Northwest News Network. He joined us from Salem, Ore. to talk about the resignation of that state's governor. Thanks so much, Chris.

LEHMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.