Sadness, relief greet Kitzhaber resignation locally

Reaction in Ashland to the Friday resignation announcement by Gov. John Kitzhaber was swift, ranging from sad regret to relief that the long slog through scandal is over.

“He did the right thing. It took too long, though,” said Ashland Councilwoman Carol Voisin. “It was obvious something was going sideways. I’m sorry he had to resign. He was a good governor, but circumstances made it so he had to go.”

Opinion was varied about whether the fourth-term governor was “tried, convicted and sentenced by the media with no due process and no independent verification of the allegations,” as Kitzhaber said in his resignation statement.

“No, he wasn’t tried in the press,” said Voisin. “His fiancee had far too many counts against her. If he’d come forward sooner with an explanation, but he thought it was going to go away. So don’t blame the messenger, the press.”

Jeff Golden, producer-host of “Immense Possibilities” on public TV and a former county commissioner, called the resignation “sad,” but said he suspected it wouldn’t have come to this precipitous end unless the governor and insiders were aware of damaging information and events that would emerge under an investigation.

“There is a whole lot we don’t know at this point. It happened so fast, and then the Democratic leaders joined the bandwagon,” said Golden. “It must be pretty dramatic for leaders who worked with him so long to turn like this.”

Ashland Councilwoman Pam Marsh called it “shocking and sad” and agreed that “we just don’t know the inside scoop here,” though noting the conflicts of interest seem to be with Kitzhaber’s fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, rather than directly with the governor.

Marsh said while there’s “no concrete proof of wrongdoing” by the governor, he “did a very poor job of defending himself” before tough questions from the press, then lost the faith of his own party.

Marsh wishes he would have kept a 2010 campaign promise to leave office after a third term and help nurture the next generation of leaders to eventually run for governor.

“When I saw him run last year, he looked tired and haggard,” she said, adding that it’s “another politician brought down by testosterone-fueled bad judgment.”

Longtime political science professor and city councilor Don Laws, now retired, called the resignation “regrettable, but necessary,” especially after he lost the support of his own party's leaders and The Oregonian newspaper.

“It didn’t look good from what I saw in the media,” said Laws, “but I was willing to wait until independent parties had all the facts.”

Brown, to be sworn in Wednesday, has the credentials to be a good governor, said Voisin, who has met her and says she likes her.

“She knows what she’s doing. She’s been very transparent in all she does and will make a great governor. I love it that we have a woman governor, and I celebrate it because we should have a representative democracy, with women more populous than men. The Legislature is mostly men, for instance. Women are needed because women solve problems differently than men — more empathetic, they think more about the ramifications of choices, know how to speak and listen critically.”

Two of those men in the Legislature, Sen. Alan Bates and Rep. Peter Buckley, both Democrats who represent Ashland, said it had been a trying few days for everyone involved.

“It’s a sad day for the state,” said Bates. “It’s a sad day that a governor can be hounded out of office by a newspaper.”

At this point, Bates said he’s not inclined to believe Kitzhaber did anything unethical based on their 30-year friendship.

Bates said Kitzhaber’s erratic behavior, described in an email by Brown, is likely because the governor hasn’t slept for a week as he faced increasing calls to step down. Brown said Kitzhaber asked her to return from a conference in Washington, D.C., then asked why she left early when she arrived.

“He’s probably mentally and physically exhausted,” Bates said. “The pressure on him is a complete nightmare.” 

Buckley said there had been a strong desire to support the governor among legislators, but the events of the past week evolved so quickly it caught everyone off guard.

“Everyone was trying to figure this out but there was a lot of confusion,” Buckley said. “The governor had found himself in a situation he’d never been in before.”

As the revelations mounted over the past few months, Buckley said the governor continued to believe he had acted in an ethical manner.

“He never foresaw there was a conflict,” Buckley said, adding that the media played a part in the pressure for Kitzhaber to resign.

Getting tripped up by ethics in office is easier than you’d think, Golden noted.

“People in public office get careless about matters of fairness, scrupulousness and the complexities of conflict of interest. It happens a lot. They think of themselves as good people who wouldn’t do anything dishonest, but then, there it is.”

Golden summed up Kitzhaber’s long career in state government: “He was a terrific public servant who contributed really great things. I hope this last chapter doesn’t define his whole legacy. He’s at the very top rungs of people who have given value to Oregon.”

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org. Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann contributed to this report.

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