By John Celock
A month and a day after he was sworn-in to a historic fourth term, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) has announced that he’ll resign from office next week.
Kitzhaber’s resignation comes following a series of allegations involved his fiancee’s outside employment and influence over state government, along with an investigation by the state attorney general. The resignation announcement caps a dramatic week that saw Kitzhaber’s successor summoned back to Oregon from a Washington, D.C. conference for what she characterized as a meeting with Kitzhaber during a “bizarre and unprecedented” situation, along with Kitzhaber being abandoned by top Democrats in the state.
Kitzhaber’s resignation becomes effective at 10 a.m. on Feb. 18 and he will be succeeded by Secretary of State Kate Brown (D).
Kitzhaber, a doctor and Oregon’s longest serving governor, attacked the allegations, his former allies and media in a resignation statement.
“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,” Kitzhaber said. “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.”
Kitzhaber did note though that he could not govern having lost the confidence of the state Legislature. Kitzhaber is a former state Senate president, which he noted in his statement.
He said that he is confident that he did not break any laws with regards to the contracts and business dealings of his fiancee Cylvia Hayes. Kitzhaber had designated Hayes as Oregon’s first lady when he took office in 2011.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Kitzhaber was first elected to two terms as Oregon’s governor in 1994, leaving office due to term limits in 2003. He returned to the governorship after the 2010 election.
Kitzhaber was one of three governors nationally to return to office in 2010 after a hiatus. The others are Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and California Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Kitzhaber is one of only a handful of governors in American history to be elected to four four year terms in office. Among the others are Brown, former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R), former South Dakota Gov. Bill Jankelow (R) and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt (D). Branstad is currently serving his sixth term as Iowa’s chief executive.
In his resignation announcement, Kitzhaber cited a series of accomplishments in his tenure including in the areas of health care, the environment, public employee pensions, employment, water policy, education, rural development, equality and fisheries.
Brown, Oregon’s next governor, will take office next week and serve through a November 2016 special election for the remainder of Kitzhaber’s term. Currently Oregon’s secretary of state, Brown will become Oregon’s second female governor following former Gov. Barbara Roberts (D), who preceded Kitzhaber in the 1990s.
A former state legislator, Brown has served as secretary of state since 2007 and was viewed as a likely 2018 gubernatorial candidate. As secretary of state Brown has been the state chief elections officer, chief auditor and in charge of business registration. She is the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Brown was presiding over a secretaries of state conference in Washington this week, when she was summoned back by Kitzhaber for a meeting where he said he was not resigning.
Brown will name her successor as secretary of state.
Brown will become the nation’s sixth woman governor currently in office and the third Democratic woman to currently hold a governorship. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo are the other Democratic women holding governorships. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) round out the female chief executives.
Brown will also become the first openly bisexual governor in American history. The first member of the LGBT community to serve as a governor was former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D), who is gay. McGreevey announced his sexual orientation during his August 2004 resignation speech. He continued to serve as governor for three months following his announcement.
Kitzhaber expressed confidence in Brown’s ability to take over the governorship.
“Oregon will be in good hands and I wish her well,” he said.