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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Top Oregon Democrats Call On Kitzhaber To Resign

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Chris Lehman
/
Northwest News Network
Senate President Peter Courtney speaks with reporters at the Oregon Capitol on Thursday.

    

Top Oregon Democrats are calling on Governor John Kitzhaber to resign. The request comes as the governor faces intense pressure and an ethics investigation.

Kitzhaber and First Lady Cylvia Hayes are facing a criminal investigation over allegations that they sold access to the governor's office to groups that wanted to shape public policy. Kitzhaber has repeatedly said he's done nothing wrong. But the scandal has become a major distraction at the capitol.

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney are all calling upon their fellow Democrat to step down.

Kotek and Courtney said they met personally with Governor Kitzhaber to ask their fellow Democrat to resign.

Kotek wouldn't address the substance of the ethics charges against Kitzhaber.

"Nonetheless, I think it's undermined the governor's ability to focus on his work," she said. "And that's the problem."

Courtney told reporters the political drama has reached a boiling point.

"I can't point to one thing that did it," Courtney said. "This isn't the first day of this. This is ongoing. So it's on this day at this time and this hour, it happened."

Washington Governor Jay Inslee told reporters Thursday he had spoken to Kitzhaber Wednesday morning.

"Just calling him to see how he’s doing," Inslee said. "We just had a friendly chat. He said that he is going to continue in his duties as governor of Oregon. He made that clear; he’s not resigning. And I’ll continue to work with him."

Wednesday afternoon, Kitzhaber said publicly that he had no plans to step down.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, who would succeed Kitzhaber, issued a statement calling the situation "bizarre and unprecedented."

Brown issued her statement to explain why she abruptly left a conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and flew home to Oregon.

She said she returned at the request of the governor, who is under immense political pressure as he deals with an ethics scandal. But Brown said that when she arrived, the governor questioned why she had come. And she said Kitzhaber said he was not resigning, but then immediately starting talking about transition plans. 

The Oregon Secretary of State is first in line of succession if the governor leaves office for any reason.