The big news this last week has been the decision by federal prosecutors to not charge former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell v. the United States, it has become more difficult to pursue elected officials on charges of corruption because an explicit agreement linking a campaign donation or gift to a contract, grant or vote is now required as opposed a general appearance of impropriety. Given the new standard passed down by the High Court, this decision did not come as a surprise to many.
Back in 2015, I joined many in calling for Governor Kitzhaber to resign. After the millions of dollars spent on failed projects like the Columbia River Crossing and Cover Oregon, the Rudy Crew Scandal, and the alleged pay to play politics of Cylvia Hayes, I figured enough was enough and he would be incapable of providing Oregon with the leadership that we needed. Since that time, however, I had on many occasions come to wish that it were still Kitzhaber in the Governor’s office as opposed to Kate Brown. You can say whatever you want about the guy, but at the end of the day, John Kitzhaber was a strong leader. Were Kitzhaber Governor at the time, I think we could have very likely avoided the divisive ballot measure fight we had over Measure 97. Even with his scandals, he will likely go down as the most influential Oregon politician since Mark Hatfield.
Now that the Kitz won’t face charges, he is free to weigh back into the political arena. Will he wage a Count of Monte Cristo style campaign of revenge against the Democrats who stepped on his metaphorical throat right at the end? Will he seek public office again? Or will he simply play an active role as an elder statesman while simultaneously cashing some rather sizable checks for consulting on healthcare or other issues? My guess would probably be the latter.
So welcome back from exile Governor Kitzhaber. I am still relatively sure that you were guilty of some impropriety, but congrats on beating the rap I guess. I hope you will play an important role in the direction of our state and will push back on some of the more extreme forces that have taken control of your party of late.
Lord knows Oregon has a bit of a leadership vacuum, and while I would personally like to see it filled by Republicans, I would take it being filled by someone in the mold of John Kitzhaber as opposed to someone in the mold of Tina Kotek.
Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate. Jacob is the Editor of the Oregon Upstart Blog.