Oregon Governor resigns amid ethics scandal

Posted at 3:41 PM, Feb 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-13 15:41:42-05

WASHINGTON (CNN) — (CNN) — Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Friday that he would resign from office, a conclusion to the months-long scandal regarding energy consulting fees Kitzhaber’s fiance received while she was working as an unpaid adviser to the governor’s office.

“It is not in my nature to walk away from a job I have undertaken — it is to stand and fight for the cause,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “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. ”

Kitzhaber has faced increasing calls to resign this week over reports indicating his fiancee advised the governor and state employees on energy policy while getting paid by a group advocating on the issue.

The state Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into the case on Monday, and on Thursday night, state troopers gathered outside his Portland-area home, leaving after a fruitless hours-long stakeout with no sighting of the governor.

He continued to keep a low profile into Friday afternoon, but the week’s developments — three top Oregon Democrats called for him to step down and two of his key staffers reportedly resigned — left him with few options.

The exodus of support capped off a week in which Kitzhaber reportedly decided to resign himself — before changing his mind.

According to the Oregonian, the Democrat had decided to resign by Tuesday, and began meeting with state legislative leaders to discuss his legacy in Oregon, going so far as to call Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown — his successor — home from a conference in Washington.

But sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, Kitzhaber changed his mind, and his office released a statement around 2:40 p.m. on Wednesday quashing the speculation and affirming his commitment to stay in office.

Kitzhaber has been dogged by reports revealing his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, advised state employees on energy policy while getting paid by a group advocating for a specific position. The Oregonian has called for him to resign, and he’s facing both a recall effort and a criminal investigation by the state attorney general.

By Friday morning, news of the governor’s troubles had reached Washington as a member of Oregon’s congressional delegation noted that the scandal had caused the state to take “some hits.”

“Love is blind — that’s all I’m going to say,” fellow Democrat Rep. Kurt Schrader told CNN in Washington, though Schrader said he was not calling for Kitzhaber’s resignation.

“I think it’s bad but I’m not going to go there,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Oregon Attorney General did not respond to a request for comment on the police presence.

His apparent flip-flop on whether to resign drew further scrutiny to the scandal.

Brown’s version of events, which she outlined in a statement, backs up the Oregonian’s report. She said she got a call from Kitzhaber late Tuesday afternoon asking her to return to Oregon from Washington “as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.”

When she returned, late Wednesday afternoon, Brown said things had changed.

“I was escorted directly into a meeting with the governor. It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, D.C., which I found strange,” she recounted in her release. “I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The governor told me he was not resigning, after which he began a discussion about transition.”

Brown added: “This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.”

She said she told the governor she and her staff would be ready if he resigns — and there are mounting calls for him to do just that.

On Thursday, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler became the first Oregon elected official to call for Kitzhaber to step down.

In a statement, Wheeler said the governor “has accomplished many great things during his long career, and history will be kinder to him than current events suggest.”

“Unfortunately, the current situation has become untenable, and I cannot imagine any scenario by which things improve. Oregon deserves a Governor who is fully focused on the duties of state,” Wheeler said.