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Embattled Oregon Governor Says He Will Resign


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon says he will resign amidst an ongoing criminal investigation. The Democrat began his fourth term in January, but months of allegations of ethical lapses reached a full roar this week. Chris Lehman of the Northwest News Network reports from the state capital, Salem.

CHRIS LEHMAN, BYLINE: John Kitzhaber is an Oregon icon. He's known for wearing jeans and cowboy boots, even to his own inaugurations. He's the only person ever elected governor of the state four times, including by a fairly comfortable margin just last November. But the veteran politician couldn't weather this political storm.


GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER: 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.

LEHMAN: Kitzhaber and his fiancee - Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes - are accused of looking the other way while Hayes received money from interest groups that wanted to use her influence to advance their legislative agenda. The Oregon Attorney General has launched a criminal investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice is also looking into the case. In the state capital building Friday, lawmakers and lobbyists hardly knew how to react.


MIKE MCLANE: You know, today's a sad day for Oregon.

LEHMAN: Mike McLane is the leader of the Oregon House Republicans. The GOP is in the minority in both legislative chambers in Salem, but McLane wasn't rejoicing over the downfall of a political adversary. He says he'd rather the governor had stuck around to face the music.


MCLANE: We need that investigation completed to make sure all Oregonians know that their government is going to be transparent.

LEHMAN: The Oregon Department of Justice clarified Friday that its criminal investigation of the governor will continue, even after he leaves office. Democrats in Oregon were also taken aback by the downfall of their governor. Senate President Peter Courtney has served alongside Kitzhaber for more than three decades. He says he just doesn't know how the governor's fall from grace will affect state government.

SENATE PRESIDENT PETER COURTNEY: I never practiced this play. I never was on this team. I don't have any primer. I don't have any way of how you do this because I never thought I'd be here, and it's never really happened this way before.

LEHMAN: And Courtney says he hopes Kitzhaber's legacy will be more than the circumstances under which he left office.

COURTNEY: He is a son. He is a brother. He is a father. He is a human being. It is all these things for which I hope he is remembered.

LEHMAN: The governor's resignation is effective Wednesday morning. That's when Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown will be sworn in as the state's second female and first LGBT governor. Brown is also a Democrat and long-time elected official. She briefly addressed reporters as cameras flashed outside her state capital office, but she didn't have much to say.


GOVERNOR KATE BROWN: I know you all have a lot of questions, and I want to be able to answer those questions as soon as possible.

LEHMAN: For his part, Governor Kitzhaber has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. In his resignation statement, the governor says he's only guilty in the court of public opinion.


KITZHABER: It is deep troubling to me to realize we have come to a place in the history of this great state of ours where a person can be charged, tried, convicted and sentenced by the media with no due process and no independent verification of the allegations involved.

LEHMAN: Depending on the outcome of the ongoing criminal investigation, Kitzhaber may end up being tried in a real court, the kind that could put an even darker stain on his legacy. For NPR News, I'm Chris Lehman in Salem, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.
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