John Kitzhaber, the Bob McDonnell of Oregon

by Jim Geraghty

The Oregonian newspaper’s editorial board assesses the scandals surrounding Democratic governor John Kitzhaber, and comes to a dire conclusion:

It 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.

Kitzhaber could offer the cynical defense that Oregon voters knew about a bunch of these scandals last fall and reelected him anyway:

Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, is experiencing perhaps the most embarrassing and tumultuous month of any governor’s spouse in the country. First a local newspaper revealed that she had a previously unrevealed marriage in 1997, which she later admitted was part of a fraudulent scheme to get an immigrant a visa. Then she admitted that around the same time, she helped purchase some land for an attempt to grow marijuana illegally. She insisted that Kitzhaber never knew of these past crimes. Then she hit the scandal trifecta:

On Oct. 8, Willamette Week reported Hayes has pushed for the state to change its economic and energy policies while accepting payments from private advocacy groups seeking to influence those same policies.

In some cases, Hayes solicited private consulting contracts with groups she was already working with in her public role as first lady and adviser to Kitzhaber. Records show she has routinely used her title as first lady and as adviser to Kitzhaber when making paid appearances at the behest of her private clients.

State ethics law prohibits public officials from using public resources for personal benefit. That would include Mahonia Hall, the governor’s mansion owned by the state.

In fact, the Oregonian editorial board endorsed Kitzhaber for reelection in early October — as some of those scandals broke.

We could play the “what if he was a Republican” game, except we don’t have to imagine it; Virginia governor Bob McDonnell also ran into trouble for his and his wife’s interactions and monetary transactions with figures seeking to influence state policy. And now he’s trying to stay out of prison after being found guilty on eleven counts of corruption.

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