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John Kitzhaber will resign as governor of Oregon due to corruption scandal

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
Anthony Pidgeon / Redferns / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.
  1. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) will resign due to a corruption and influence-peddling scandal involving his fiancee Cylvia Hayes, he announced Friday. He will step down on Wednesday, February 18.
  2. While serving as first lady of Oregon and advising Kitzhaber on energy issues, Hayes was paid over $200,000 in consulting fees — much of it from companies and nonprofits with an interest in energy policy.
  3. The FBI is looking into the matter, having launched what "looks to be the largest criminal investigation of a public official in Oregon," Laura Gunderson reported Friday. Various state investigations are taking place too.
  4. Over the course of this tumultuous week, various new revelations appeared in the press, and top Democrats abandoned the governor. So, after days of indecision and confusion in Oregon, Kitzhaber finally decided to step down on Friday morning.
  5. Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) will replace Kitzhaber on Wednesday, and will become the first openly bisexual governor in US history. Learn more about her here.

The controversy: The first lady's consulting money

A video starring Hayes and produced by her consulting firm, 3E Strategies, in 2007.

The scandal centers around at least $213,000 that Hayes has earned in consulting income since she became first lady in 2011. Hayes and Kitzhaber's disclosures of that income have frequently been incomplete, and many of the payments have come from groups seeking to affect public policy.

scathing profile by Nigel Jaquiss of the Willamette Week last year described how Hayes "continued her outside work as a private consultant on energy and economic issues" while serving as first lady and an adviser to the governor. For instance, Kitzhaber named Hayes to a team putting together his energy plan in 2011 — and, that year, she signed a consulting contract with an energy company seeking state funds.

Various nonprofits promoting clean energy also paid Hayes thousands of dollars over the next few years, including $118,000 from the Clean Economy Development Center. And the Oregonian's Laura Gunderson obtained emails showing Hayes "directed state employees how to implement a new policy while she was being paid $25,000 by an advocacy group to promote it."

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission and the state attorney general both opened investigations into Hayes' actions — and last month, Jaquiss reported that Hayes was under investigation by the FBI too.

Resigning, or not?

As the revelations piled up, Kitzhaber initially said he had no intention of resigning, and announced that Hayes would play no role in crafting policy during his new term. But state Democrats increasingly began to abandon him, the Oregonian called for his resignation, and a the prospect of a recall effort was bandied about.

Rumors of a resignation swept the state (and Twitter). According to a statement later released by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown — who would become governor in the event of a resignation — Kitzhaber called her Tuesday and "asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone."

But when Brown returned and met with Kitzhaber on Wednesday, she says, "It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange." Kitzhaber said, according to Brown, that he was not resigning. "This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation," Brown concludes.

According to Laura Gunderson's reporting, Kitzhaber did intend to resign on Tuesday, but suddenly changed his mind. KOIN 6 News reports that Hayes advised him not to step down. But then, on Thursday, two of the governor's top staffers — his chief of staff and legislative liaison — quit, according to Anna Canzano of KATU News. Later that day, Nigel Jaquiss of the Willamette Week reported that the governor's office "last week requested state officials destroy thousands of records in the governor's personal email accounts" as the various investigations loomed.

Finally, after two of Kitzhaber's top staffers — his chief of staff and legislative liaison — resigned, and top Democrats like State Treasurer Ted Wheeler called for him to step down, it apparently became clear to Kitzhaber that he couldn't weather the storm. He announced Friday that he'd resign.

In his resignation statement, Kitzhaber said, "I am confident that I have not broken any laws nor taken any actions that were dishonest or dishonorable in their intent or outcome," but that the "media frenzy" had "clearly reached the point of no return." He called it "deeply troubling" that a person could be "charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced by the media with no due process and no independent verification of the allegations involved."

Hayes and Kitzhaber

Hayes — who is about 20 years younger than Kitzhaber — had a difficult early life, and has spoken of problems with her parents. It was revealed last year that, in 1997, she married an immigrant she barely knew to get him a green card, in exchange for $5,000. Around the same time, she helped plan a marijuana grow operation in land she had bought in rural Washington (though the plan was never executed).

Hayes and Kitzhaber met in 2002, as he was completing the last year of his second term as governor (he couldn't run for more than two consecutive terms). The following year, Kitzhaber divorced his own wife, and he and Hayes dated. Hayes soon launched a consulting firm, focusing on green energy and environmental issues.

When Kitzhaber ran for governor again in 2010, he campaigned with Hayes, and when he took office, he announced that even though they weren't married, Hayes would become the state's first lady. (The two eventually became engaged last year.)

This post has been updated to reflect breaking news.