Oregon governor resigns citing 'point of no return'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/17/2015

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his resignation on Friday, Feb. 13, amid calls for him to step aside because of a conflict-of-interest scandal. Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat, is slated to take over as governor on Wednesday.

Kitzhaber has been in office since 2011. He won re-election in November 2014 beating out then-state Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Republican.

The Democratic governor also held the state’s top executive seat from 1995 to 2003.

His decision to step away follows months of questions about business dealings with his fiancée Cylvia Hayes. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has launched a criminal investigation looking into consulting work obtained by Hayes while she worked as an adviser to the governor.

In a statement released on Friday announcing his resignation, Kitzhaber said it was time for him to step away as questions about his administration have “reached the point of no return.”

“I understand that I have become a liability to the very institutions and policies to which I have dedicated my career,” Kitzhaber said.

Kitzhaber is notable to truckers for vetoing a 2001 bill that sought to increase the state’s speed limit. The bill authorized the Oregon Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit from 55 mph to 65 mph for trucks and from 65 mph to 70 mph for cars on rural stretches of Interstates 5 and 84.

A former doctor, Kitzhaber said at the time he was concerned the speed increase would encourage drivers to drive even faster, making the roads more dangerous.

In 2013, during his second stint at the helm he signed a bill into law to implement a vehicle-miles-traveled fee for motorists. Of course, truckers driving in the state already pay a tax based on weight and distance traveled.

The pilot program for motorists is slated to start July 1 using volunteers. As many as 5,000 motorists will pay by the mile using GPS technology or at the pump via a wireless transponder.

It is unclear how the change at the helm in Oregon will affect transportation funding efforts at the statehouse.

Transportation issues expected to be considered by state lawmakers this year include a low carbon fuel standard, a carbon tax, and an increase in the fuel tax rate.

Kitzhaber is the fifth Oregon governor to resign, and the first since 1952. He also becomes the first U.S. governor to resign since Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stepped down in July 2009. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached in January 2009.

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