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Scott Bruun: Our Kitzhaber Conundrum

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Governor John Kitzhaber at the January Cylvia Hayes press conference: “I’m not going to consider resigning, of course not. I was elected by the people of the state to do this job, and I intend to do it.”

“I’m not going to consider resigning, of course not.  I was elected by the people of the state to do this job, and I intend to do it.”

And with that smug blast of righteous indignation, Governor John Kitzhaber set straight Oregon’s oh-so wrong-headed press corps.  Do they not realize, the press corps that is, that everything the governor does is for “the people”?  Do they not realize how absurd it is, offensive in fact, to suggest the governor might be motivated by anything other than the best interests of “the people”? 

Hard to know whether the governor’s remarks on resignation were extemporaneous, or a pre-scripted response to a likely question.  In any event, Kitzhaber’s response was not unique.  His response had the look and feel - not to mention the words – of comments uttered by a cast of other indignant governors.  Those American governors throughout our land and history who, at some point, were compelled to assure citizens and the press that their continued tenure in office was important for the sake of “the people.”

You know, governors like former-governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois; former-governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina; former-governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and former-governor Eliot Spitzer of New York. All of whom made an art form out of evoking “the people” for self-justification.

Yet maybe there is a small difference between Kitzhaber and some of those other governors.  Maybe, in Kitzhaber’s case, there’s even an element that evokes a degree of sympathy – something akin to the sympathy we feel when we read about a would-be Samaritan who drowns while attempting to save another struggling swimmer.

Whereas governors like Blagojevich, Spitzer and others were consumed and eventually derailed by narcissistic self-interest, our governor’s derailment was caused through a loyal interest in someone else.  And no doubt, loyalty is among the noblest of human qualities.  Yet blind loyalty that aids and abets another’s sub-ethical ambitions, loyalty that knowingly damages the public interest, is criminal.  Or at least should be.

The other day my friend Bill mentioned something interesting.  He compared the plight of Governor John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes to that of King Edward VIII and his mistress, Wallis Simpson.  Not apples-to-apples, of course, but still worthy of consideration.

Let’s review what the history books say of Edward and Simpson.  Or if not that, let’s at least watch “The King’s Speech” on Netflix again.  Recall that Wallis Simpson was an attractive, manipulative and highly ambitious American socialite with a troubled past. She was intelligent, alluring and devastatingly captivating.  Or at least she was to King Edward, who would go on to abdicate the throne for her.  Edward would, even during a time of growing world crisis, abdicate his responsibility to the people of Great Britain by ceding his primary loyalties to Simpson. And Simpson would, despite world opinion, accept those transferred loyalties to propel her royal ambitions.  

But hey, at least they loved each other, right? To hell with a nation. Or “the people.”

Here in Oregon, we have not yet reached the modern-day equivalent of an abdication crisis.  The governor, in dismissing the question or resignation out of hand, made that emphatically clear.  Yet, while he may have no plans to depart to his equivalent of the royals’ villa in Spain, and while he maintains that he must stay to do the work of “the people,” the people may finally be having other ideas.

And therein lies the conundrum.  After all, history shows that Edward’s abdication turned out to be a good thing.  It resulted in a new monarch in King George VI, and an eventual partnership with Churchill that helped defeat Nazi tyranny.  Hard to envision something quite so grand here in Oregon.  

If Kitzhaber leaves office early, he will be replaced by someone equally inclined toward bad policy.  Someone equally inclined to sign bad bills into law.  Someone equally supportive of the types of policy and law that has left Oregon with a moribund economy, over-priced housing,  under-funded universities, and the worst high school graduation rate in the country.

We are now to the point where the statesman-like thing for John Kitzhaber to do is resign.  Barring resignation, and given that Oregon is the only state in the nation without an impeachment process, the good-government thing for Oregonians to do would be to recall our forth-term governor.  But in any event, those of us who love Oregon and are angered by the current situation should be careful what we wish for.  In the case of Dr. Kitzhaber, the cure may be worse than the disease.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs, yet dutifully commutes every day to Portland, where he earns his living on the fifth floor of Big Pink.


Related Slideshow: What Governor Kitzhaber Said at His Jan. Cylvia Hayes Press Conference

Governor John Kitzhaber held a press conference on Jan. 30, 2015, where he fielded questions surrounding his fiancé and Oregon’s “First Lady” Cylvia Hayes. 

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Kitzhaber told media Friday, Jan. 30 he would not consider resigning. 

“Of course not,” he said. “I was elected by the people of this state to do a job, and I intend to do it.”

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The Governor said he did not see any problem in hiring Ball Janik, a firm that lobbies for Oregon in Washington, D.C., to defend him and Cylvia Hayes against allegations that include lobbying. 

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Kitzhaber said he has not been contacted by the FBI.

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The Governor said he did not instruct his attorney Leanni Reaves to loosen ethics guidelines for Cylvia Hayes. 

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“Our intention has always been to try to navigate this undefined area of First Lady,” Kitzhaber said during the press conference. 

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The Governor does not believe that an independent investigation is necessary, when asked if a body other than the ethics commission appointed by him should investigate. 

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When asked why the Governor did not keep Cylvia Hayes physically out of her office, he answered, “We tried to draw that line.” 

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“I am in love,” the Governor said. "I do not believe I have been blinded by love, I am 'eyes wide open.'”

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“I have no idea whether she [Cylvia] is legally a member of my household.”

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Cylvia Hayes is in Sweden visiting friends, the Governor said. 

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The Governor at one point compared himself to controversial Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. 

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The Governor said he is not trying to reach a deal with the ethics commission. 

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The Governor does not believe that an independent investigation is necessary, when asked if a body other than the ethics commission appointed by him should investigate. 

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“The government ethics commission has a process and a sanction process. We will embrace that,” Kitzhaber said. “Well the Government ethics commission has a process and has a series of sanctions that it can take and we will obviously and have been complying and cooperating fully with the commission and we will embrace whatever decisions and sanctions they feel is appropriate."

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“Cylvia and I have a number of areas of common interest, climate change being one, low carbon fuels being one,” Kitzhaber said. "The fact that we have a convergence of intents does not seem to me to apply that if those issues apply in my administration that influence has been exerted."

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Cylvia Hayes will play no role in the Governor’s office for the next four years, according to Kitzhaber.


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