Friday, February 6, 2015

The Big Kitz Off

Back in October I talked about how Oregon's Democratic Gov. Jon Kitzhaber was in serious trouble of losing to Tea Party Republican Dennis Richardson after revelations that Kitzhaber's fiancee Cylvia Hayes had at one time owned and ran a pot farm near the Canadian border.  Kitzhaber survived re-election, winning by 5 points.

But now more serious allegations of Hayes using the power of the office of "First Lady" have surfaced, and the state's largest paper, the Oregonian, is now calling on Kitzhaber to resign.

Consider, instead, what Oregonians have learned during only the last couple of weeks. First, Hayes received a combined $118,000 in 2011 and 2012 through the Washington, D.C.-based Clean Economy Development Center even as she served as an unpaid energy adviser to Kitzhaber. This income is not fully accounted for on tax forms Hayes provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive. Neither has the governor fully accounted for the money in ethics filings.

A big chunk of Hayes' fellowship money, $75,000, came from the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, a nonprofit that funds clean-energy initiatives such as the low carbon fuel standard. Implementing a low carbon fuel standard is a priority for both Kitzhaber and Democratic leaders in the Legislature. The session's first public hearing on a bill to that end happened on Monday.

How did Hayes end up with a fellowship funded by an organization with an interest in clean-energy policy in Oregon? A Kitzhaber campaign adviser, Dan Carol, helped arrange the funding following Kitzhaber's election in 2010, Budnick and Gunderson reported. Carol subsequently landed a position within the Kitzhaber administration. That position, Willamette Week has reported, pays more than $165,000, making Carol Kitzhaber's highest-paid aide.

Who knew following the trail of "clean energy" money could make you feel so dirty?
Another campaign adviser, Greg Wolf, helped land Hayes a position with the Rural Development Initiatives. The nonprofit, Budnick and Gunderson reported, wanted Hayes to help raise money for a clean economy project - including tens of thousands for which Kitzhaber's support was needed. Wolf, like Carol, later secured a position in Kitzhaber's administration.

Rampant and direct cronyism?  Check. Tens of thousands in kickback to Hayes? Check.  Kitzhaber not even bothering to disclose the money on ethics filings?  Big, huge check.   The editorial board does not mince words, ending with this:

The questions about Kitzhaber's judgment and competence ask themselves. Is he so oblivious that he had no idea that campaign advisers were helping his girlfriend line up employment marked by ethical red flags? Is he really so clueless that he had no idea how much money Hayes collected through her fellowship, which would explain his apparently incomplete ethics filings? Or, alternatively, did he know and fail to act? Both possibilities are damning, and it's difficult to imagine alternatives that are not.

Whether through gross inattention or complicity, Kitzhaber has broken faith with Oregonians. His career in Oregon politics is one of great accomplishment, but his past success does not excuse the mess he has made of the office with which Oregonians entrusted him. He is now less a governor than a source of unending distraction. He can no longer lead Oregon effectively and should resign. His constituents deserve better.

Ouch. We'll see what happens, but while Kitzhaber survived his third term and was re-elected to a fourth, he may not finish it out if this keeps up.

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