Transition away from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber speeds ahead

PORTLAND, Ore. — With time running out before Gov. John Kitzhaber leaves office amid an ethics scandal and criminal investigations at both the state and federal level, he remained out of public view Monday, the Legislature tried to get its new session back on track and death penalty opponents made a last-minute appeal.

House Speaker Tina Kotek briefed reporters on the Legislature’s plans and made clear she’s not seeking the secretary of state post that will become vacant Wednesday when Kate Brown is sworn in as Oregon’s next governor.

“I am not interested in being the secretary of state. My job is here,” Kotek said. She would not speculate on whom Brown will appointment and has not made contingency plans, should that person come out of the House.

Brown’s spokesman, Tony Green, said Monday was a day of transitioning and could not identify Brown’s replacement, but by midday, he announced that Brian Shipley will be Brown’s chief of staff. Shipley was a deputy secretary of state under Brown until he took a job as a lobbyist for Oregon Health &Science University in 2013. He has worked for Govs. Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski as well as Senate President Peter Courtney.

Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday [—] the same day federal prosecutors sent a subpoena to the Department of Administrative Services demanding that it bring a laundry list of documents and records relating the governor and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, to a federal grand jury on March 10.

Hayes faces allegations she used their relationship to win contracts for her consulting business and failed to report income on her taxes.

Legal experts say the subpoena indicates federal agents are investigating possible violations of public corruption laws and financial crimes, including wire or mail fraud, bribery and tax evasion.

The state attorney general’s office is also conducting an investigation into Hayes.

In a letter made public Monday by The Oregonian newspaper, the attorney general’s office denied Hayes’ claims that the newspaper can’t have her emails because she’s not a public official. Deputy Attorney General Fredrick Boss said although Hayes was not in a paid position, she advised the governor, worked on state business and directed state employees in their work. He ordered the emails released.

Kitzhaber and Hayes have not responded to numerous requests for comment. Kitzhaber’s only response to the scandal was a lengthy resignation letter in which he emphatically stated that he did not break any laws or do anything “dishonest or dishonorable.”

Kitzhaber has indicated he would step down Wednesday.

In a meeting with reporters, Kotek said “clearly the last week has been very emotional for everybody.” She said she wanted to assure the state that the Legislature is “very focused on the people’s business” and would be “focused on the work ahead this week” despite the change in leadership.

Kitzhaber had ordered a moratorium in 2011 on executions, and on Monday, Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty urged him to again “do the right thing” by commuting the sentences of the state’s 35 death row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If Kitzhaber declines to order the commutation, the group encouraged Brown to continue the moratorium on executions.

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