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Two Of Oregon's Top Democrats Call On Gov. John Kitzhaber To Resign

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber kisses fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, after he is sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as governor in Salem, Ore., in January.
Don Ryan
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber kisses fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, after he is sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as governor in Salem, Ore., in January.

If you want to know just how surreal Oregon politics have gotten in the past few months, consider this statement released by Secretary of State Kate Brown today:

"Late Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from the Governor while I was in Washington, D.C. at a Secretaries of State conference. He asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.

"I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. I was escorted directly into a meeting with the Governor. It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, D.C., which I found strange. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition.

"This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.

"I informed the Governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign. Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon."

The back story is that four-term Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber has increasingly found himself in a politically precarious position over an influence peddling scandal involving the state's first lady Cylvia Hayes.

As we've reported, this all started last fall, when Hayes admitted that in her younger years she "received about $5,000 to marry an Ethiopian man who wanted a green card."

A few days after that, reports surfaced that Hayes had agreed to buy a $245,000-piece of property that she and another man planned to use to run an illegal marijuana growing operation.

Then in February, The Oregonian ran a story that said that two long-time associates of Kitzhaber "helped create jobs for first lady Hayes with groups hoping to influence Oregon's state energy policy."

With a few more twists and the launch of formal investigations, that brings us to this week. If Kitzhaber resigns, Brown is next in line for the governorship, so when she got called back from D.C. to Oregon, the media started speculating.

But Kitzhaber said in no uncertain terms that he was not resigning.

"Let me be as clear as I was last week, that I have no intention of resigning as governor of the state of Oregon," he said on Wednesday, according to USA Today. "I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state, and I intend to continue to do so."

Brown issued her statement today and hours later two of the state's top Democrats — Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek — said the governor should step down.

The Oregonian reports:

"Kotek said later that the governor has been consumed by all the legal investigations and media inquiries.

"'The work of the state has to go on,' she said, 'and he's not able to focus on that right now.'

"'It has become clear to both of us that the ongoing investigations surrounding the governor and Cylvia Hayes have resulted in the loss of the people's trust,' Kotek said. 'Our actions today and our actions going forward are focused on rebuilding the public's trust in state government.'"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.