The nugget. (Sisters, Or.) 1994-current, February 22, 2017, Page 17, Image 17

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    Wednesday, February 22, 2017 The Nugget Newspaper, Sisters, Oregon
Ex-Oregon governor emerging from political oblivion
By Jeff Manning
The Oregonian/OregonLive
In early January, a capac-
ity crowd filled the Mission
Mill for a Salem City Club
presentation on health care.
It was politics at its most
grass-roots, full of wonky
detail about capitation
rates and coordinated care
The star attraction was
John Kitzhaber, who stayed
long after the event was over
to chat with well-wishers.
“He was full of energy, still
very much invested in health
care and his legacy of reform
in Oregon,” said fellow pan-
elist Jesse Ellis O’Brien, pol-
icy director for the left-lean-
ing advocacy group OSPIRG.
It was another baby step in
an unlikely return from politi-
cal oblivion.
Today, two years after
Kitzhaber resigned amid an
influence-peddling scandal
that made him the target of
a federal investigation, the
former governor has staged
a surprising comeback — a
testament to his personal
resilience and, perhaps, to
the shallow bench of Oregon
Democratic politics.
Some welcome his return.
“Oregon needs everyone’s
input, the state’s in bad
shape,” said John DiLorenzo,
a prominent Portland lawyer.
“Whatever you think about
the personal choices he’s
made, the guy has a hell of a
lot of expertise.”
But Kitzhaber can’t fully
come in from the cold until
the federal inquiry is com-
plete. Chatter among Portland
criminal defense lawyers is
that some sort of resolution is
imminent, perhaps as early as
this month.
U.S. Attorney Billy
Williams declined interview
requests, as did Kitzhaber and
his fiancee Cylvia Hayes.
In a video on his Facebook
page, Kitzhaber said he’s
ready to write a new chapter.
“I’m going to find new ways
to lead,” he said. “I’m heal-
ing. I’m hopeful.”
Kitzhaber’s long and sto-
ried political career took a
fateful turn in October 2014
when Willamette Week ran
a report alleging Hayes had
used her position as Oregon’s
first lady to land consult-
ing contracts. As the story
detailed, Kitzhaber’s staff had
become alarmed and tried,
unsuccessfully, to rein Hayes
Kitzhaber steadfastly
denied doing anything wrong
even as embarrassing details
of Hayes’ past — a sham
marriage, her alleged role in a
marijuana grow operation —
came to light. But the revela-
tions kept coming. Hayes had
collected more than $200,000
through various consulting
contracts with environmen-
tal and progressive political
By February 2015,
Kitzhaber was done. His res-
ignation took effect Feb. 18
— some five weeks into his
fourth term — and he was
replaced by Secretary of State
Kate Brown a week later. That
same month, the couple was
subpoenaed by a grand jury
looking into Hayes’ financial
affairs and the contracts she’d
landed while first lady.
Meanwhile, a case with
eerie similarities to the
Kitzhaber-Hayes investiga-
tion was unfolding 3,000
miles away. Eight days after
Kitzhaber quit, Maureen
McDonnell, the former first
lady of Virginia, was sen-
tenced to a year and a day
in prison after being found
guilty of bribery. Her hus-
band, former Virginia Gov.
Bob McDonnell, had received
a two-year sentence for a fed-
eral corruption conviction
just weeks before.
The McDonnells had been
accused of accepting more
than $140,000 in cash and
gifts in exchange for promot-
ing the business of a politi-
cal patron who was seeking
special favors from the state
government. The telege-
nic couple went down hard,
which seemed a foreboding
development for their Oregon
After his resignation,
Kitzhaber disappeared from
public view.
The legal morass grew
deeper as the former governor
and first lady fought demands
for their emails. In May 2015,
Hayes sued The Oregonian/
OregonLive in an attempt to
block the release of thousands
of emails. She lost.
Kitzhaber also took legal
action in November of that
year to block the govern-
ment’s demand for emails
he considered personal and
private or subject to attorney-
client privilege. The issue
ultimately ended up before
the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals, which ruled last
July that the subpoena for his
personal emails was “unrea-
sonably overbroad.” But the
court rejected Kitzhaber’s
contention that his commu-
nications with state lawyers
were shielded by attorney-
client privilege.
Meanwhile, the criminal
investigation dragged on.
Corruption cases almost
always are lengthy affairs.
But seldom does it take fed-
eral prosecutors two years
to decide whether to file
The nine-month detour
to the appeals court helped
prolong the investigation,
according to lawyers familiar
with the case.
By last March, Kitzhaber
had had enough seclusion. He
staged his own digital coming
out party in a series of videos
he posted on a newly cre-
ated Facebook page. He was
both defiant and optimistic,
adding that if he had it to do
over again, he might not have
“It’s been a year since I
left office,” he said in one of
the videos. “I’ve intentionally
taken a low profile to allow
the federal investigation to
take its course. But I can’t
sit any longer and allow my
career and reputation to be
defined by a media narrative
that from the beginning has
been long on speculation and
short on fact.”
He granted one inter-
view — to veteran politi-
cal reporter Jeff Mapes at
Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Kitzhaber made it clear that
his re-emergence was not just
idealistic public service. He
needed the money.
“I’m also trying to fig-
ure out what my career path
from a financial standpoint is
going to be,” he said. “And
as I said, I do think that will
involve some consulting. And
if you’re going to do some
consulting, people need to
know you’re alive and well.”
Sean Robbins, of the
health insurance powerhouse
Cambia Health Solutions,
said it was clear to him after
a late-summer breakfast with
Kitzhaber that he was deter-
mined to raise his profile.
“He was fully engaged
with health care transforma-
tion, really thinking hard
about the looming budget
problem, which probably got
a lot worse after November’s
election,” Robbins said. “His
head was completely in the
Not long after that meet-
ing, Kitzhaber irritated much
of the state’s Democratic
establishment when he came
out against Measure 97,
which would have created a
new gross receipts tax on cer-
tain corporations in the state.
The $3 billion-a-year tax was
too steep and failed to impose
any performance require-
ments on the agencies receiv-
ing the windfall, he said.
Jack Roberts, former
director of the Oregon
Lottery, said it was a classic
centrist move that reminded
him why Kitzhaber was such
an effective politician. “He’s
got a knack for solutions that
bring people together from
different partisan camps
and geographical areas,”
Roberts said. “When you’re
a Democrat from Douglas
County, you kind of have to
learn that.”
Kitzhaber now faces a far
greater challenge — defend-
ing and preserving Oregon’s
model of healthcare after the
election of Donald Trump
and the likely repeal of the
Affordable Care Act.
But how visible and effec-
tive Kitzhaber will be all
hinges on the criminal case.
On that front, Kitzhaber
and Hayes got some encour-
aging news last summer.
The McDonnells appealed
their guilty verdicts all the
way to the U.S. Supreme
Court, which last June unan-
imously voted to toss the
Working on behalf of con-
stituents should not be crimi-
nalized, the court opined.
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