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Pressure Mounts On Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber To Resign

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Oregon, the governor is facing calls to resign. Democrat John Kitzhaber is accused of looking the other way while his fiancee received money from interest groups who could use her influence to advance their legislative agenda. Chris Lehman of the Northwest News Network reports.

CHRIS LEHMAN, BYLINE: Oregon governor John Kitzhaber doesn't hold court with the press very often. So when he strolled to the podium recently, he clearly looked uncomfortable.

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GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER: I'd like to start by acknowledging the legitimacy of some of these questions, to try to provide answers where possible, or a pathway to an answer where necessary, and to speak to Cylvia's current and future role in the administration.

LEHMAN: Cylvia is Cylvia Hayes, the governor's fiancee. The governor refers to her as his first lady. She's a clean energy consultant. The state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, and The Willamette Week, a major alternative paper, analyzed documents that appeared to show Hayes using her closeness to the governor as a selling point for her consulting gigs. The documents show she reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with firms that want to influence Oregon policy. Kitzhaber has repeatedly denied breaking any ethical or legal boundaries.

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KITZHABER: We knew there was a gray area, and we took intentional steps to try to clearly separate her volunteer activities as first lady from her paid professional work.

LEHMAN: Many in Oregon don't buy that explanation. The Oregon attorney general, also a Democrat, has launched a criminal investigation. The state's ethics commission is considering possible civil penalties, and at least two newspapers have called upon the governor to resign. Kitzhaber says that's not in the cards for now at least.

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KITZHABER: I'm not going to consider resigning. Of course not. I was elected by the people of this state to do a job, and I intend to do it.

LEHMAN: But some Oregonians don't want the governor to stick around. Attorney Jacob Daniels is preparing to circulate recall petitions against Kitzhaber this summer. He says the governor's challenges are becoming too big of a distraction.

JACOB DANIELS: Now it's becoming a situation where the problem is bigger than the issues - the people's issues that the legislators and the governor should be tackling in Salem.

LEHMAN: Daniels says as each new allegation is leveled at the governor, it's almost irrelevant whether or not he's guilty of anything.

DANIELS: It became increasingly clear to me that he had lost his credibility.

LEHMAN: Daniels is no stranger to working on a political campaign. He worked for Kitzhaber's last Republican opponent. And that brings up this wrinkle - Kitzhaber, it turns out, handily won re-election just last fall when some of the ethical allegations had already surfaced. The only sign that anything was amiss on election night - his fiancee was not at his side.

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KITZHABER: It is an incredible honor to have been elected governor to lead this state for the next four years.

(CHEERING)

LEHMAN: Kitzhaber has already made his mark in Oregon political history. He's the only person elected to lead the state four times. Right now, it's not clear whether the governor will last another four years. Just yesterday, the Oregon secretary of state touched off a frenzy of speculation when she abruptly left a conference she was attending in Washington, D.C., to fly back to Oregon. Kate Brown is first in line of succession if the governor leaves office early. For NPR News, I'm Chris Lehman in Salem, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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