Governor's resignation highlights issues raised by Center probe

State Integrity Investigation gave Oregon poor marks for conflict-of-interest rules

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Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon makes a statement prior to his gubernatorial debate in October, 2014.

Don Ryan/AP

Amid a growing ethics scandal, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday, drawing a close to a tumultuous week. The burgeoning conflicts-of-interest scandal involving Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, draws new attention to transparency and accountability issues highlighted by the Center’s State Integrity Investigation.

While Oregon earned an overall grade of C-, placing it 14th out of 50, the 2012 report revealed numerous loopholes to the state’s ethics laws and gave an F grade for public access to information and a D for executive accountability, finding that conflict of interest rules were particularly ineffective. The State Integrity Investigation was a collaboration between the Center, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. The Center will release an updated report later this year.

In a long statement announcing his resignation, which will take effect Feb. 18, the Democratic governor apologized to his supporters and said he was “confident” he hadn’t broken any laws or acted dishonestly. “Nonetheless, I understand that I have become a liability to the very institutions and policies to which I have dedicated my career and, indeed, my entire adult life.”

Newspapers and state leaders had been calling for the governor to resign after a series of revelations involving Kitzhaber and Hayes, including allegations that Hayes used her relationship with the governor to benefit her professional life. Last week, The Oregonian reported that Hayes had advised state employees on how to implement a new economic policy while she was on contract as a consultant with an advocacy group that had promoted the same policy.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum confirmed she had opened an investigation into the first couple’s dealings. Kitzhaber had just begun his fourth term in office this year. Secretary of State Kate Brown, also a Democrat, will take office immediately after Kitzhaber’s resignation next week.

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