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Oregon's top legislative leaders ask Gov. John Kitzhaber to resign

The saga of Oregon's embattled governor takes another strange twist

Two top legislative leaders asked Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to resign on a day that also saw unprecedented criticism of the Democratic governor from the secretary of state, who would replace him. 

State Senate President Peter Courtney told reporters that Kitzhaber, who along with his fiancee is under investigation for alleged ethical lapses, did not indicate during a private 10-minute meeting whether he would resign.

But during a news conference, Courtney said he had received a note from Kitzhaber that talked about a “transition.”

“In view of my conversation with him, I don’t know what’s coming next,” Courtney said. “We will get through this, that I know.”

His comments followed by hours a statement by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown that Kitzhaber had thrust the state into a "bizarre and unprecedented" situation.

The governor's 36-year political career has been threatened for months by allegations involving Cylvia Hayes, his fiancee. She has been accused of falsifying tax forms and accepting consulting fees to influence her future husband. The state Ethics Commission and the state attorney general have launched investigations.

On Wednesday, Kitzhaber's future plans were called into question after he asked Brown to return to the state from a conference she was attending in Washington, D.C.

Brown suggested in her Thursday statement that she had been under the impression he planned to resign:

"Late Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from the Governor while I was in Washington DC at a Secretaries of State conference. He asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.

"I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. I was escorted directly into a meeting with the Governor. It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition.

"This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation.

"I informed the Governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign. Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon."

Kitzhaber had issued a statement Wednesday saying, "Let me be as clear as I was last week, that I have no intention of resigning as governor of the state of Oregon." 

"I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state and I intend to continue to do so."

Kitzhaber was reelected in November after eleventh-hour revelations that Hayes had entered a fraudulent green-card marriage in 1997, receiving $5,000 to wed an Ethiopian national so that he could stay in the country.

A week ago, the Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, called for Kitzhaber to step down.

“More ugliness may surface,” it declared on Feb. 4, “but it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

1:45 p.m. This story has been updated with information from Oregon legislative leaders.

This post was first published at 1:03 p.m.

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