The Worst Politician You’ve Never Heard Of

Mytheos Holt Policy Analyst
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Here’s a question: What if I told you there was a governor whose malfeasance managed to combine the worst of Bridgegate and the scandals that embroiled the McDonnell family? What if I also told you that his malfeasance directly led to the failure of his state’s health insurance system, casting millions of people into regulatory uncertainty? What if I told you that this politician employed a woman to manage that health insurance system who is literally known as “the Princess of Darkness?” And what if I told you that, all these lurid facts notwithstanding, that politician’s ridiculous excesses have largely gone unreported by the mainstream media outside his state? Why would you think that is?

If you answered, “because that politician is a Democrat,” we have a winner.

Meet John Kitzhaber, former Governor of Oregon, and a man who, in a sane world, would go down in history as one of America’s most venal, corrupt politicians in history. Not only that, but even with the already impressive haul of scandal that Kitzhaber has incurred, we still don’t know the full extent of what went on during his utterly botched and bizarre administration. But not to worry, the House Oversight Committee is on the case, and moving fast to get to the bottom of it.

And well they should. Why? Read on.

Let’s start with Kitzhaber’s catastrophic mishandling of health care in his state. All told, the Oregon healthcare exchange’s failure cost a whopping $300 million when it was finally shut down, but if you live outside Oregon, you probably only heard about it because of the existence of a commercial for the exchange that was so embarrassing it now only survives on Youtube as part of a John Oliver sketch. Yes, really.

That $3 million commercial, as it happens, was a great metaphor for what was actually going on behind the scenes at Cover Oregon, a project whose runners were so concerned with making it look pretty that they produced a garbled mess worthy of The Onion.

You see, behind the scenes, Kitzhaber had actually turned the running of his quarter billion dollar exchange over to Patricia McCraig, a woman with absolutely no experience in healthcare at all, and who wasn’t even a state employee. But what she lacked in experience, she made up for in having the right friends. You see, McCraig, or as she liked to call herself, the “Princess of Darkness,” was Kitzhaber’s top political consultant, and he’d put her in charge of Cover Oregon not to try to fix it, but to try to come up with a spin on it that would preserve his chances at reelection. And, predictably, McCraig took one look at Cover Oregon and decided, taxpayers’ money be damned, if it didn’t look good for Kitzhaber, they should shut it down and — and this is the really cute part — blame the contractors who’d set it up instead of Kitzhaber’s inept administration.

To ensure that they could pull off this $300 million scam, Kitzhaber and McCraig decided to conduct all discussions related to Cover Oregon over private emails, rather than on state-sponsored ones, so as to avoid scrutiny (sound familiar?).

And they would’ve gotten away with it, and much more too, if it weren’t for one meddling IT consultant.

Enter Michael Rodgers, a 15-year-employee of the Oregon state government who, when asked to delete any and all of Kitzhaber’s emails that had been archived on state servers, did something quite different and leaked them all to the press. As a result, not just McCraig’s attempt to toss $300 million Oregonian taxpayer dollars down the drain came to light, but also much, much more that should make Kitzhaber live in infamy.

You see, when he wasn’t letting the “Princess of Darkness” declare lights out on government programs, Kitzhaber was also doing things like handing over vast amounts of money and influence to his live-in girlfriend (and makeshift First Lady) Cylvia Hayes. The full list of scandals and misbehaviors by Hayes has to be seen to be believed, but a few of the greatest hits follow:

[Hayes] apparently failed to report $88,000 on her federal tax return.[…]

$203,000 [was] paid to Hayes in consulting fees from organizations seeking policy changes from Kitzhaber’s administration. Hayes’ work involved giving a few speeches and holding meetings, but it’s not clear what else she did to earn the money.[…]

Kitzhaber claims his 2013 trip with Hayes to a conference in Bhutan did not constitute the use of his office to aid her consulting business. (A $25,000 contract for Hayes soon followed.)

And that’s not even getting into the fact that Hayes did truly charming things like demand that state employees clean out her litter box. Unfortunately for her, there are some things even kitty litter can’t cover up.

John Kitzhaber has since resigned. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the House Oversight Committee has opened an investigation into this mess. They certainly should, and should spare no weapon in the process. Subpoenas need to be issued, so there will be consequences for liars or fudgers. The committee needs to request not just state emails, but private emails as well (since so much of the Cover Oregon mess took place there). Someone needs to put the fear of God in the people responsible for this egregious scandal, which easily outranks some of the sillier ones in recent memory.