February 12th, 2015
Governor Kitzhaber’s apparent reversal of his decision to resign (as reported by the Willamette Week) doesn’t mean he won’t resign. It means he listened to wise counsel of his lawyer.
I suspect the Governor had simply had it with the accusations and stress on himself and his family. He likely feels he has done nothing that merits resignation, and that a unilateral resignation without agreements on limitation of civil or criminal liability would prove to everyone that he has nothing to fear from a full investigation. I further suspect that he felt that pre negotiating his departure under terms that would largely wrap up or cap further investigation would be seen by some as an admission of guilt.
Thus the decision to unilaterally resign.
His attorney likely advised his that actual guilt is not the only issue. That without an agreement to limit or terminate investigations, he would face months of investigation anyway. It would cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. And frankly, even if the Governor has no criminal culpability, there’s no guarantee that a prosecutor wouldn’t see this as a ticket to higher office, or simply a way to cover their own rear, and present a stilted view of what happened to a grand jury, where he and Ms. Hayes would have no right to defend themselves.
If I were his attorney, I’d have advised that it would be easier and less expensive to fight such an investigation as the Governor, and easier to raise money for a defense fund. Governors still have power to influence and lead and even when crippled, are powerful people. Ex Governors have no power and far fewer friends willing to step up and help financially. I’d furher advise him that refusing to resign now didn’t mean he couldn’t change his mind later. After some negotiation on terms.
And of course the wild card here is this. While the Governor may have done nothing more than unwisely capitulated to the will of Ms. Hayes, he may not have known of the worst, possibly criminal, acts she engaged in. So while the Governors worst case scenario may be ethical violations, violations that as a former Governor he may care little about, Ms. Hayes may face criminal charges. She has very little leverage to negotiate a mitigation those accusations and charges once the Governor resigns.
This is an ongoing process. The Governor has shown the desire to be rid of the mess he helped create by resigning. But he is wise to engage in a process that caps his exposure in penalties and costs. And frankly, it’s probably best for the State if the powers that be go along with some form of finalization of this process as well that mitigates penalties on the Governor and Ms. Hayes. His departure from office under the current condition is a significant penalty for the Governor, and continued investigation is costly and diverts our attention from more important issues.
If Oregonians can applaud the return of Rasheed Wallace to Portland, we should be able to allow Governor Kitzhaber, who has some significant achievements during his decades in public service, to transition to private life with a modicum of respect.