A decade done - A political king falls from grace
In the 1980s, '90s, 2000s and into the start of this decade, John Kitzhaber was the ultimate power player in Oregon politics.
He was a member of the Oregon House and Senate, Senate president, then governor for two terms — after which he made state history by dropping out of elected politics, then stepping back in and winning an unprecedented third term, followed by a fourth.
All of that ended in 2015 when Kitzhaber resigned under the weight of scandal and investigations, leading to a Portlander taking over the governor's office and the first statewide election of a Republican in 14 years.
Kitzhaber's February 2015 resignation revolved around media reports, and a subsequent criminal investigation, into influence peddling by his fiancée and policy adviser, Cylvia Hayes.
everyone from Pamplin Media Group to EO Media, and The Oregonian raised questions about how Hayes used her influence as Oregon's first lady to obtain lucrative consulting contracts, and how she was paid for work that overlapped with policies about which she advised Kitzhaber. Articles at the time indicated Hayes had not reported all of that income on her tax returns.
Kitzhaber vowed to stay in office and blamed the media for his troubles. Complaints were lodged with the Oregon Ethics Commission. Kitzhaber himself asked Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to investigate the allegations.
The story took a bizarre twist on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, while then-Secretary of State Kate Brown was on a business trip to Washington, D.C. Oregon has no lieutenant governor, and the secretary of state is next in line should a governor step down.
Brown claimed the governor called her back early to Oregon. Kitzhaber claimed he didn't know why she returned, but vowed to stay in office.
Three days later, he announced his resignation.
That catapulted Brown, a former Portland legislator, into the governor's office, where she remains to this day, having won election and re-election throughout this decade.
It also resulted in Dennis Richardson, a Republican who lost to Kitzhaber in 2014, winning election as secretary of state. That was in 2016; no Republican had won statewide office in Oregon since U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith's last successful re-election bid in 2002.
Richardson's one victory remains the only statewide GOP win of the 2010s. He died in February 2019.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.