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Government and Politics

Ore. Gov. Kitzhaber: 'I Have No Intention Of Resigning'

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Office of the Governor
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber tried to quell rampant speculation about his political future Wednesday, with a statement saying he has no plans to resign.

That followed a daylong frenzy of speculation  that started when Secretary of State Kate Brown abruptly left a conference in Washington, D.C., to return to Oregon. Brown is first in line of succession to the Oregon governor’s office.

Kitzhaber doesn't hold court with the press very often. And  when he strolled to the podium recently, he looked uncomfortable.

"I'd like to start by acknowledging the legitimacy of some of these questions, to try to provide answers where possible, or a pathway to an answer where necessary, and to speak to Cylvia's current and future role in the administration," the governor said.

Cylvia is Cylvia Hayes, Kitshaber''s fiancée. He refers to her as his First Lady. She's also a clean energy consultant.

The state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, and Portland alternative paper The Willamette Week have analyzed documents that appear to show Hayes using her closeness to the governor as a selling point for her consulting gigs.

The documents show she reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with firms that want to influence Oregon policy.

Kitzhaber has repeatedly denied breaking any ethical or legal boundaries.

"We knew there was a grey area and we took intentional steps to try to clearly separate her volunteer activities as First Lady from her paid professional work," he said.

In an earlier press conference, soon after the allegations came to light, Hayes said the same thing.

"I can tell you that we have been very proactively cautious and sought legal advice for what I could and could not do professionally and what I could and could not do as First Lady,” she said.

But so far the governor and Hayes have not been able to explain all the allegations away. 

The Oregon attorney general, also a Democrat, has launched a criminal investigation. The state's ethics commission could consider civil penalties after that. And at least two newspapers have called upon the governor to resign.

Kitzhaber said last month that wasn’t in the cards.

"I'm not going to consider resigning, of course not," he said. "I was elected by the people in this state to do a job and I intend to do it."

But some Oregonians don't want the governor to stick around. Attorney Jacob Daniels is preparing to circulate recall petitions against Kitzhaber this summer. He says the governor's challenges are becoming too big of a distraction.

"Now it's becoming a situation where the problem is bigger than the issues, the people's issues that the legislators and the governor should be tackling in Salem," Daniels said.

Daniels said that as each new allegation is leveled at the governor, it's almost irrelevant whether or not he's guilty of anything. "It became increasingly clear to me that he had lost his credibility with his constituents, with people within his own party."

Daniels is no stranger to working on a political campaign. He worked for Kitzhaber's last Republican opponent.

Kitzhaber handily won re-election just last fall, when some of the ethical allegations had already surfaced. The only sign that anything was amiss on election night? His fiancée was not at his side.

The governor has already made his mark in the Oregon's political history: He's the only person elected to lead the state four times. Right now, it's not clear whether the governor will last another four years. But for now, at least, he has no intentions of leaving office.