Writings and observations

Brown’s bad week

jorgensen

Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber broke his typical silence earlier this month via social media to publicly criticize his successor.

A recent post on Kitzhaber’s Facebook page took Governor Kate Brown to task for her position on Initiative Petition 28, or rather, her lack of one.

“With all due respect, I find it hard to understand how any public official or candidate for statewide office could be neutral on a measure that would bring about the most sweeping change in Oregon’s tax system since Ballot Measure 5 passed in 1990,” Kitzhaber wrote.

Brown became Governor in February 2015 after Kitzhaber resigned amid federal investigations and allegations of corruption and influence peddling. She is up for election this November to serve out the rest of Kitzhaber’s very brief fourth term in office, and is neither supporting nor opposing the corporate tax measure.

Instead, Brown’s office has released a plan on how to spend the money that the measure’s passage would bring into the state’s coffers, a move that apparently did not impress Kitzhaber.

Multiple media outlets picked up on the post and wrote stories about it, which creates a conundrum for Democrats seeking office at the state level. If they support the measure, they risk drawing the ire of the business community. Opposing it could upset some of the same special interest groups that typically fund their campaigns.

Kitzhaber’s swipe at Brown, and the media’s reaction to it, means that avoiding taking a stance on the measure is simply not an option.
It begs the question of what, exactly, is Kitzhaber’s motivation. Is he seeking redemption? Perhaps. But if that’s the case, he still has a lot of work ahead of him.

An Oregonian article released last week cited a poll showing Kitzhaber with a 23 percent approval rating. That’s not great by any measure, but it’s still much higher than that of his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. Her favorability rating is at five percent, though I have no idea who any of those few remaining supporters might be.

Could it be that Kitzhaber is out for revenge? I suppose it’s possible. Brown was among the Democratic leaders who threw him under the bus before he stepped down, and you could physically hear the hurt and sense of betrayal in his voice in the recorded announcement of his resignation.

I actually don’t think it’s either of those things, and have another theory: Maybe Kitzhaber still cares about the state and the people in it, and made his comments out of genuine concern for them.

As someone who deeply loves Oregon, I’ve been very critical of Kitzhaber over the past couple of years. However, under our system, people are innocent before proven guilty. While he presumably remains under investigation, Kitzhaber has not been charged with any crimes. Neither has Hayes.

And in this case of IP 28 and Brown’s position on it, Kitzhaber happens to be completely correct.

He pointed out in his post that the measure was “written by pollsters rather than economists, and is the product of ballot title shopping.” Kitzhaber even managed to take a swipe at former rival Bill Sizemore, who unsuccessfully challenged him for the Governor’s office in 1998.
Those written remarks by Kitzhaber set off a series of seeming setbacks for Brown and her administration, which happened in rapid succession.

Brown was panned in the press days later by another prominent Oregon Democrat, Congressman Peter DeFazio, over an entirely unrelated matter. It also came out in the media around the same time that Brown will not be debating Republican gubernatorial nominee Bud Pierce at an Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association (ONPA) conference in July.

Our sitting incumbent governor shouldn’t be afraid to debate a political newcomer, should she? After all, Brown has been a public figure in Oregon politics for quite some time, having served in the Senate prior to being Secretary of State and Governor. Pierce, on the other hand, has never held elected office. He is, however, extremely sharp, surprisingly good off the cuff and getting better at campaigning literally by the day. His campaign has also released a poll showing him trailing Brown by just a couple of points and, between the two of them, he’s obviously having a much better month.

This isn’t the first time a gubernatorial candidate has opted to skip out on the debate at the ONPA conference. Republican Chris Dudley passed up the chance to share a stage with his opponent during the 2010 election. That opponent? None other than John Kitzhaber himself, who may very well have the last laugh by the time all of this is over.

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