Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday amid a scandal involving contracts given to his fiancée Cylvia Hayes, a green-energy consultant for his government. His resignation will take effect at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown will succeed him since there is no lieutenant governor.
Kitzhaber, a Democrat, had just begun a record fourth nonconsecutive term as governor; he served from 1995 to 2003 and again since 2011. He was under growing criticism for what Oregon newspapers called a conflict of interest since Hayes, his longtime companion and now fiancée, was on the payroll of a green-energy nonprofit while simultaneously advising his Cabinet on green energy initiatives. It was also revealed last year that Hayes had married a man (her third husband) in a “green-card marriage” for money in 1997 and soon after undertook in a scheme with a boyfriend to grow large amounts of marijuana.
On Jan. 30, Kitzhaber announced that Hayes would no longer have any role in the government. Oregon Democrats called on Kitzhaber to resign this week, but he refused at first. On Thursday, he called back Brown from Washington, D.C., to meet and discuss a transition. Brown is set to become the first openly bisexual governor in the United States.
Kitzhaber apologized in a letter posted to his website Friday, but criticized what he called a "trial by media." He also criticized Oregon Democrats for abandoning him.
“Nonetheless, 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,” he said. “As a former presiding officer I fully understand the reasons for which I have been asked to resign.”
Kitzhaber has been active in Oregon politics since becoming a state senator in 1983. He was elected governor in 1994 and 1998 and came back to win a third term in 2010 following two terms of fellow Democrat Ted Kulongoski. Known for his casual dress and rugged appearance, he often wore blue jeans, including to his 1995 inauguration, and he rarely wore a tie. He and Hayes began dating after Hayes ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature in 2002.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., issued a statement following Kitzhaber’s announcement, thanking him for his public service. “The priority now should be to maintain the strength and stability of our state. I am confident in Secretary Brown's abilities and commitment, and I hope for a smooth and expeditious transition,” the statement read.