Politics & Government

Subpoenas arrive as Oregon governor announces departure

The Capitol Rotunda is framed by television news crew microwave broadcasters, in Salem, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015.
The Capitol Rotunda is framed by television news crew microwave broadcasters, in Salem, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. AP

Just hours after Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his decision to resign, a subpoena arrived in a state office building confirming that federal agents are looking into the influence-peddling scandal that led to the abrupt end of a four-decade political career.

The Democratic governor gave in to mounting pressure Friday, abandoning his office amid suspicions that is live-in fiancée used her relationship with him to land contracts for her green-energy consulting business.

His resignation, which takes effect Wednesday, cleared the way for Secretary of State Kate Brown to assume Oregon’s highest office and become the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.

“This is a sad day for Oregon. But I am confident that legislators are ready to come together to move Oregon forward,” said Brown, also a Democrat. Unlike most states, Oregon does not have a lieutenant governor. The secretary of state is next in line to succeed the governor.

When Kitzhaber closes the door on his life in public office, the scandal that toppled Oregon’s longest serving governor will still linger. Subpoenas delivered to the Department of Administrative Services Friday request a massive array of documents from Kitzhaber’s administration.

The subpoena was the first acknowledgment of a federal investigation against Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. It seeks records pertaining to 15 other people besides Kitzhaber and Hayes, including Kitzhaber’s chief of staff, policy advisers, Kitzhaber’s lawyer and secretaries.

The subpoena orders the agency to produce documents for a federal grand jury before March 10. An agency spokesman, Matt Shelby, said it would provide whatever requested records are in its possession.

Kitzhaber insisted he broke no laws.

“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 in a statement.

The announcement of the planned resignation capped a wild week in which Kitzhaber seemed poised to step down, then changed his mind, but ultimately bowed to calls from legislative leaders that he quit.

It’s a stunning fall from grace for a politician who left the governor’s office in 2003 and then mounted a comeback in 2010 and returned to his old job.

In a long statement announcing his decision, a defiant Kitzhaber cast blame on the media and on “so many of my former allies” who did not stick up for him. His staff released an audio recording of him reading the statement. Near the end, his voice trembled and he seemed to choke back tears.

Kitzhaber handily won re-election in November to a fourth term after surviving the botched rollout of Oregon’s online health care exchange.

But the allegations surrounding the work of his fiancee were more damaging, dominating headlines in the state following his victory.

A series of newspaper reports since October have chronicled Hayes’ work for organizations with an interest in Oregon public policy. At the same time, she was paid by advocacy groups and played an active role in Kitzhaber’s administration, a potential conflict of interest.

The spotlight on Hayes led her to reveal that she accepted about $5,000 to illegally marry a man seeking immigration benefits in the 1990s. Later, she admitted she bought a remote property with the intent to grow marijuana.

A fiercely private person, Kitzhaber has been forced to answer embarrassing and personal questions about his relationship. In response to questions at a news conference last month, Kitzhaber told reporters that he’s in love with Hayes, but he’s not blinded by it.

Kitzhaber, 67, met Hayes, 47, before the 2002 election, when he was governor and she was a candidate for the state Legislature. She lost her race, but they later reconnected after Kitzhaber’s term ended.

Hayes used the title “first lady,” though the couple never married, and she took an active role in his administration. They were engaged last summer.

“One thing I hope people know about me is that I love this state and its people, its rivers, its mountains and its landscapes with every fiber of my being,” Kitzhaber said in is parting statement. “It is because of that love that I tender my resignation.”

A look at governors who left office in disgrace

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his resignation on Friday amid mounting questions and investigations into his fiancée, who was accused of using her position as first lady to enrich herself and benefit private consulting clients. Kitzhaber, 67, was elected to a historic fourth term as governor in November.

A look at other governors who left office under pressure in recent years:

––VIRGINIA: Kitzhaber’s case has drawn comparisons to former Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who last month was sentenced to two years in prison on charges that he and his wife accepted more than $165,000 in gifts from a vitamin executive in exchange for special favors. The FBI started investigating the allegations toward the end of McDonnell’s term in 2013.

––ILLINOIS: The state has a long history of public corruption with four governors going to prison in the last 50 years. Most recently, Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, was impeached and removed from office by the state Legislature in early 2009 following his arrest on federal corruption charges. The allegations included that he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he was elected president. Blagojevich is currently serving a 14-year sentence in a federal prison in Colorado.

–––SOUTH CAROLINA: Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, stayed in office after admitting to an extramarital affair and traveling to Argentina to visit his mistress in the summer of 2009. He paid a $70,000 fine for using public money for personal travel. Despite the scandal, Sanford finished two terms as governor in 2011 and was elected to his old seat in Congress in 2013.

–––NEW YORK: Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned two years into his term in 2008 amid revelations that he slept with prostitutes. Spitzer was exposed as a patron of a high-priced prostitution ring during a federal investigation, but he was never charged. His attempt at a political comeback failed when he lost his bid to become New York City’s comptroller in 2013.

–––NEW JERSEY: Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, made history as the nation’s first openly gay governor when he announced his resignation in 2004 and revealed he had an extramarital affair with a male staffer. He faced criticism for appointing that staffer, who later denied the affair, as a homeland security adviser despite having few qualifications. Two of McGreevey’s campaign donors later went to prison after pleading to corruption charges.

–––CONNECTICUT: Gov. John Rowland, a Republican, resigned in 2004 over a corruption scandal that included allegations of accepting thousands of dollars in illegal gifts. He was released from prison in 2006 after serving 10 months, but he now faces another corruption case. He is awaiting sentencing after he was convicted in September on federal charges that he conspired to hide payment for work on two congressional campaigns.