SALEM (AP) — Oregon's top Democrats urged Gov. John Kitzhaber to resign Thursday, saying he cannot lead the state effectively amid a growing ethics scandal involving his fiancee, a green-energy consultant accused of using her relationship with the governor to land contracts for her business.
Senate President Peter Courtney said he and House Speaker Tina Kotek asked for Kitzhaber to step down.
"I finally said, 'This has got to stop,'" Courtney told reporters after he and Kotek met with the governor. "I don't know what else to do right now. It seems to be escalating. It seems to be getting worse and worse."
The state treasurer also joined in the call to Kitzhaber to step down.
"Unfortunately, the current situation has become untenable, and I cannot imagine any scenario by which things improve," said Treasurer Ted Wheeler, another Democrat. "Oregon deserves a governor who is fully focused on the duties of state."
Their statements came hours after Democratic Secretary of State Kate Brown said she had a "strange" and contradictory conversation with Kitzhaber about succeeding him as governor.
Brown said the governor had asked her to fly back to Oregon from a conference in Washington, D.C., but when she arrived, he asked why she had returned.
"This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation," Brown said in a statement.
She said Kitzhaber told her he's not resigning, but then began a discussion about a transition.
Brown would automatically become governor if Kitzhaber steps aside in the wake of influence-peddling allegations involving his fiancee, a green-energy consultant.
Until Thursday's statement, Brown had avoided weighing in on the controversy surrounding Kitzhaber.
Kitzhaber's future has been the subject of intense speculation in Oregon. He told some of his aides he was stepping down and summoned Brown from Washington, then changed his mind while she was traveling, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation.
They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about private discussions.
It's not clear why Kitzhaber, a four-term governor who handily won re-election in November, decided he would stay put despite mounting criticism. He issued a vague statement Wednesday explaining he was not resigning.
"I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state, and I intend to continue to do so," Kitzhaber said, repeating a refrain he's uttered at least twice in the past two weeks.
Newspaper editorial boards and Republicans have called on him to leave office over the allegations involving his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, who has been under increasing scrutiny since October, when a series of reports chronicled her work for organizations with an interest in Oregon public policy. That work came about when she was serving as an unpaid adviser in the governor's office.
Amid the attention, Hayes revealed that she accepted about $5,000 to illegally marry an immigrant seeking immigration benefits in the 1990s. Later, she acknowledged purchasing a remote property with the intent to illegally grow marijuana.
Kitzhaber has denied any wrongdoing, saying he and Hayes took steps to avoid conflicts of interest. Though questions about Hayes have swirled for months, the pressure on Kitzhaber intensified in recent weeks after newspapers raised questions about whether Hayes reported all her income to on her tax returns.
In early February, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she was launching a criminal investigation.
A fiercely private person, Kitzhaber has been forced to answer embarrassing and personal questions about his relationship. In response to questions at a news conference last month, Kitzhaber told reporters that he's in love with Hayes, but he's not blinded by it.