Not every political scandal is Watergate, even though we have been sticking a “-gate” suffix onto every other scandal ever since then to pay homage to it. The scandal in Oregon surrounding Governor John Kitzhaber doesn’t have much resemblance to Watergate, either; it’s a scandal of personal connections and personal exploitation of access to power that mainly centers on Kitzhaber’s fiancée, and bears more resemblance to Bob McDonnell than Richard Nixon. There is one parallel, though, that evokes the final days of the Watergate — the long walk of the executive’s allies to tell him that it’s time to go. This time, though, that means Democrats had to deliver the bad news:
Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek met with Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday morning and told him it was time to resign. …
Courtney and Kotek had met with their fellow lawmakers earlier Thursday to let them know about the meeting with the governor.
As Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, left that meeting, he said simply, “Sad day.”
“I’ve known John Kitzhaber longer than anyone else in the building,” he said. “This is a sad day for Oregon.”
Their hand may have been called by a “bizarre” meeting Kitzhaber demanded with Oregon’s Secretary of State, who would succeed Kitzhaber in the event of his resignation (Oregon has no Lieutenant Governor). Kitzhaber called Kate Brown out of meetings in Washington DC to return immediately to the state, which Brown did, assuming Kitzhaber had made a decision which would require her to be in Oregon. After the coast-to-coast trip, Brown ended up being told by Kitzhaber that nothing was changing — and then started discussing a possible transition. Brown left the meeting displeased and dismayed:
Late Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from the Governor while I was in Washington, DC at a Secretaries of State conference. He asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.
I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. 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, DC, which I found strange. 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.
This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.
I informed the Governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign. Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon.
The situation has become critical for Democrats in Oregon, who have enjoyed much success with Kitzhaber as the nominal leader for their party for 20 or more years. Now, though, the state’s largest newspaper has called for his resignation, and voters are in agreement, according to a new poll from Survey USA:
58% of Oregon adults say Governor John Kitzhaber should resign, according to this latest exclusive KATU 2 News Poll conducted by SurveyUSA. 36% say Kitzhaber should remain in office. Republicans say Kitzhaber should resign by a 4:1 margin; independents by a margin of 2:1. Democrats say Kitzhaber should remain in office by a slim 5:4 margin.
45% of Oregonians say Kitzhaber has done things that were unethical, but not illegal; 28% say Kitzhaber has broken the law; 20% say he has done nothing wrong. When asked the same question about Cylvia Hayes, Kitzhaber’s fiance and Oregon’s First Lady, a different response: a majority, 54%, believe she has broken the law; another 28% say she has acted unethically, but not illegally.
The crosstabs on this poll are brutal. More than 60% of voters 35 years of age and older think Kitzhaber should resign, as do 61% of independents. Democrats disagree, but only 52/44, not exactly a strong vote of confidence in their top office holder. Even in Portland, 56% of those surveyed think Kitzhaber should hit the road, while only 48% of self-described liberals statewide think he should stay — and 44% want him out.
Kitzhaber has only one play left. The only suspense is when he’s going to realize it.