Scandal has come to Oregon

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

Now half of Oregon’s governor’s in the past three decades have been embroiled in scandals that include alleged criminal behavior

A column in the Washington Post last August cited Oregon as being the best state in America for its lack of corruption. The column noted that “in Oregon, strong oversight and audit rules ensure that state officials keep their hands out of the cookie jar,” and that “there were fewer corruption convictions in Oregon than in any other state.” It was a point of pride for Oregonians, and confirmed how we generally view ourselves.

When we think of scandal and corruption, we think of places like Illinois, New Jersey or Louisiana – not Oregon. Places like Illinois earn that reputation through decades of problems. A 2012 report from the University of Illinois at Chicago noted that “For a century and a half, public corruption has been a shameful aspect of both Illinois and Chicago politics,” and that “more than half of the state’s governors have been convicted in the past forty-two years.”

Oregon Capitol at night - Ides of March 2015

Oregon Capitol at night – Ides of March 2015 (Dan Lucas)

Oregon is still no Illinois, but the specter of scandal and corruption has come to Oregon. The fact that more than half of Illinois’ governors have been convicted over a four decade period is troubling, but now half of Oregon’s governor’s in the past three decades have been embroiled in scandals that include alleged criminal behavior. From January 1987 to January 2015 Oregon was served by four governors: Neil Goldschmidt, Barbara Roberts, John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski.  Goldschmidt was accused of the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl, and now Kitzhaber has his own list of troubles.

Willamette Week has recently reported that emails reveal that Kitzhaber “lawyered up” two days before his re-election last November and that by January his lawyers were concerned about a possible criminal investigation. His lawyers concerns have borne out.

There are now investigations underway or pending into former Gov. John Kitzhaber and former First Lady Cylvia Hayes by the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI, by the IRS, by the Oregon Department of Justice and by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. The Oregonian’s Laura Gunderson said the FBI-led investigation is “what looks to be the largest criminal investigation of a public official in Oregon.”

The Oregonian reported that the federal grand jury has subpoenaed Oregon’s own Department of Justice for documents on Kitzhaber and Hayes — a move that legal experts described as “unusual” and a former Oregon Attorney General described as “massive and unprecedented.”

Those investigations are on top of the four federal investigations already underway after the Cover Oregon debacle wasted more than $300 million in federal funds. The four federal investigations “are being conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Government Accountability Office and the U.S. House oversight committee.”

Many Oregonians were taken aback by the Kitzhaber scandal and resignation. They are now just looking to put it all behind us, but this still unfolding scandal is far from over. We don’t know yet the results of all the investigations underway. We don’t know yet what wrongdoing or negligence by other Oregon government officials will be uncovered by these investigations.

Oregon needs to take a hard look at how we got here. We need to redraw those hard lines that have become blurred through complacency.

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