Least-Known, Genuinely Scandal-Plagued Governor in U.S.: Oregon Dem John Kitzhaber

February 12th, 2015 1:27 PM

The establishment press has obsessed over Republican Governor Chris Christie's non-scandals in New Jersey for 18 months. Anything appearing to be problematic during the past four years for Wisconsin GOP Governor Scott Walker, including a "John Doe" fishing expedition driven by a power-abusing Democratic prosecutor, has been national news.

Meanwhile, the press appears to have lost interest in Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's possible connections with arrested State Speaker Sheldon Silver. In a far more glaring omission, the vast majority of the country outside of the Pacific Northwest, even those who closely follow the news, barely recognize the name of John Kitzhaber, Oregon's Democratic Governor. Kitzhaber is embroiled in an ethics scandal so serious that he was apparently on the verge of resigning on Tuesday before he changed his mind.

Yesterday's coverage at OregonLive.com, unlike its previous investigative work, was far too heavy on the pity-party aspect, and quite light on the specifics you'd expect to see in a real news story (bolds are mine throughout this post):

John Kitzhaber planned to resign, changed mind Wednesday, sources say

Gov. John Kitzhaber decided to resign Tuesday but then changed his mind, insisting Wednesday afternoon that he's staying, The Oregonian/OregonLive has learned.

Events developed as the Democratic governor, now in a historic fourth term and fighting multiple investigations, faced eroding support from other elected officials and even his own advisers.

The governor decided to pull back from resigning - set for Thursday or Friday -- after meeting with his attorney, Portland lawyer Jim McDermott, and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. Hayes' role in his administration has been the source of much of his troubles.

The account of the tumultuous 24 hours was developed from a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the events.

... The message (delivered by advisers and Democrat politicians) 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.

The news wasn't easy to deliver.

"I know he's hurting," Courtney told reporters. "It's been a painful time."

So what are these scandals and investigations? Well, here's one found at Oregon Live on January 30:

Though he promised answers in ethics review, governor quietly looking to shut down inquiry

Gov. John Kitzhaber declared at a press conference Jan. 30 that he and fiancée Cylvia Hayes would fully cooperate with a review of corruption allegations by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

He didn't mention that, behind the scenes, their attorneys had been fighting for weeks to spare Hayes from any ethics inquiry.

Kitzhaber and Hayes' two attorneys at the time - she has since hired a separate criminal defense attorney -- responded to ethics complaints Dec. 8, arguing that the review should be dismissed because the commission has no jurisdiction over Hayes.

"The title 'First Lady' does not refer to an official office within Oregon state government or an officer of Oregon state government," they wrote. "Ms. Hayes is not a public official."

Not only did the governor keep that to himself, his attorneys' arguments fly in the face of the image he and Hayes created and maintained.

Maybe Democrats nationwide should be forced to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton's time in the White House in no way supports her potential presidential candidacy, because, using Kitzhaber's logic, she didn't become a "public official" until she took the U.S. Senator's oath of office in January 2001.

As to Kitzhaber, he and finacee Hayes are the subjects of a criminal investigation by the state's Attorney General. The investigation concerns "allegations of public corruption." One such allegation involves "whether Hayes reported $118,000 in payments on tax returns." Another is related to "released emails (which) showed Hayes directing senior officials as Kitzhaber lent support to hiring a key expert on a policy Hayes pushed" — more specifically, "policies she was being paid to promote" by advocacy group Demos. Demos is pushing for the adoption, eventually nationally, of a leftist agenda-driven "Genuine Progress Indicator" (GPI) as superior to the objectively measured but allegedly "incomplete" Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Hayes has similar financial conflicts of interest relating to "clean energy" initiatives.

Publications and organizations throughout the state, including the Oregonian's editorial board. have called for Kitzhaber to resign. The board contends that:

... it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor. If he wants to serve his constituents he should resign.

To recite every reported instance in which Hayes, ostensibly under Kitzhaber's watchful eye, has used public resources, including public employee time and her "first lady" title, in pursuit of professional gain would require far more space than we have here and, besides, repeat what most readers already know. Suffice it to say there's a pattern, and the person who bears the responsibility for allowing it to form and persist is Kitzhaber, who should know better. After all, as he pointed out during Friday's press conference, he's been serving in public office on and off since the 1970s.

... Is he so oblivious that he had no idea that campaign advisers were helping his girlfriend line up employment marked by ethical red flags? Is he really so clueless that he had no idea how much money Hayes collected through her fellowship, which would explain his apparently incomplete ethics filings? Or, alternatively, did he know and fail to act? Both possibilities are damning, and it's difficult to imagine alternatives that are not.

Whether through gross inattention or complicity, Kitzhaber has broken faith with Oregonians. His career in Oregon politics is one of great accomplishment, but his past success does not excuse the mess he has made of the office with which Oregonians entrusted him. He is now less a governor than a source of unending distraction. He can no longer lead Oregon effectively and should resign. His constituents deserve better.

Yet most of the nation is completely unaware of any of this.

Imagine how much visibility the national press would have given these stories if Kitzhaber were a Republican or conservative — regardless of the presence or absence of presidential ambitions.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.