Call for resignation is premature
Gov. John Kitzhaber has been in the news even more than usual of late, and not in a good way. New revelations continue to emerge about the role of his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, in the governor's administration and the connections between her consulting work and state energy policy.
Last week, Kitzhaber faced questions about a fellowship with the Washington, D.C.-based Clean Economy Development Center that paid Hayes a total of $118,000 during Kitzhaber's last term, while she was serving as an unpaid energy adviser to the governor. The Oregonian also has reported that Hayes may not have paid income tax on that money, according to tax forms she provided to the newspaper.
Then, new reports surfaced that one of Kitzhaber's 2010 campaign advisers helped line up the funding for that fellowship after tbhe governor was elected, and shortly thereafter joined the administration. A second campaign adviser helped get Hayes a job with Rural Development Initiatives, working with the nonprofit to raise funds for a clean energy project — work that required the governor's support. That adviser also now works in Kitzhaber's administration.
All this, combined with earlier revelations that Hayes may have used her unofficial title as first lady of Oregon to advance her consulting career in the clean energy field while advising the governor on energy policy, has convinced The Oregonian's editorial board to call for Kitzhaber's resignation. While a time may come when the governor must step down, that time is not yet.
The too-cozy relationships between clean-energy advocates, Hayes and the governor's office are certainly cause for concern. They may have violated ethics laws, although it certainly doesn't appear that anything Hayes or her various employers did caused Kitzhaber to change his views on clean energy issues; he has been a champion of those causes since long before he met Hayes.
At the very least, the mess raises questions about Kitzhaber's judgment regarding Hayes and the appearance of conflicts of interest.
What's important here is to let the formal investigations already under way run their course. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is investigating Hayes' role in the governor's administration. Willamette Week last month cited sources saying the FBI had begun an investigation, although the agency has not confirmed that. On Thursday, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said the allegations involving Kitzhaber and Hayes were "very serious — and troubling," and said her office was looking into launching its own investigation.
That should happen, sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have said lawmakers who started the 2015 session last week should focus on doing their jobs. That's good advice.
If it turns out Kitzhaber knowingly violated ethics laws, he should resign. But until that is determined, he is still the elected governor of the state, and he has a job to do, too.