Just one month after beginning his fourth term, Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber announced he will be resigning from office. The final moments of Kitzhaber’s tenure have been marred by scandals involving his fiancee and environmental interests vying to push green energy policies on Oregonians.
“I am announcing today that I will resign as Governor of the State of Oregon,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “It is not in my nature to walk away from a job I have undertaken – it is to stand and fight for the cause.”
“For that reason I apologize to all those people who gave of their faith, time, energy and resources to elect me to a fourth term last year and who have supported me over the past three decades,” he said. “I promise you that I will continue to pursue our shared goals and our common cause in another venue.”
Over the past few weeks news reports have revealed that Kitzhaber’s fiancee Cylvia Hayes used her position as a policy advisor in the Governor’s office to push policies of environmental interests that were paying her. She also called herself Oregon’s “first lady,” a position not designated in the state’s constitution.
As the scandal emerged, calls for Kitzhaber resignation until even his own party was asking him to step down. All this after being the first Oregon governor to be elected to a fourth term in office.
Kitzhaber, at first, resisted calls for his resignation, but by Friday top-ranking Democrats convinced him to step down. He will be replaced by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown.
“He was upset. He was defiant. He was struggling,” said state Senate President Peter Courtney after a meeting with Kitzhaber.
“History will be kinder to him than current events suggest,” said State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who also asked Kitzhaber to resign.
Cylvia Hayes has been the at the center of controversy since she admitted to being paid to marry foreigners in order to get them greencards– an act that is highly illegal. That was years ago, however, and more recent scandals involving green energy have caused her fall from power.
She often referred to herself as the “first lady” and used the governor’s mansion to hold meetings and push green energy policies. None of her payments by environmental interests were reported on her tax forms or on Kitzhaber’s ethics filings. While in the governor’s mansion she pushed green energy policies supported by clients and environmental groups that gave her money.
Newspapers reported that Hayes was paid $118,000 by an environmental group in 2011 and 2012 to lobby for global warming regulations on transportation fuel, called a low-carbon fuel standard — all while she was engaged to Kitzhaber and served in his office as an unpaid policy advisor.
The D.C.-based Clean Economy Development Center (CEDC), which paid Hayes while she was in the governor’s office, actually had its tax exempt status pulled by the IRS for failing to file tax returns in 2014 after Hayes’ fellowship had ended. Another group, the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, directly hired Hayes in 2013 to create a green energy communications strategy. Her contract with the Foundation was reportedly worth $40,000.
The Energy Foundation had also funded part of Hayes’s fellowship at CDEC, and is connected to San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, a prominent environmentalist who has also been pushing global warming policies in West Coast states.
Kitzhaber’s signature green policy has been the low-carbon fuel standard, a law aimed at fighting global warming through regulating transportation fuels. This policy was backed by Hayes’ clients who likely benefitted from making fossil fuels more costly.
Steyer, in fact, has been pushing similar policies in California and Washington, giving huge amounts of money to politicians and environmentalists who are willing to lend their voice to the issue.
Throughout the whole scandal Kitzhaber stood by Hayes, refusing to back down. The governor eventually succumbed to pressure and asked the state attorney general to investigate Hayes, building on top of ongoing investigation by the State Ethics Commission.
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