Secretary of State Kate Brown cut short a trip to Washington, D.C., and flew back to Oregon on Wednesday, raising questions about the future of embattled Gov.
Brown spokesman Tony Green confirmed that the secretary of state – who would become
governor should Kitzhaber leave office – had left a National Assn. of Secretaries of State conference two days early. He said he did not know why Brown changed plans.
The Democratic governor's 36-year political career has been threatened for months by allegations involving his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. 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.
As recently as last week, Kitzhaber insisted that he had no plans to step down and put a premature end to his fourth term at Oregon's helm. His office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
And Jim McDermott, the governor's private attorney, told the Oregonian and its website OregonLive on Wednesday afternoon that he has "every reason to believe the governor will stay in office. As a citizen and his lawyer, I certainly hope and expect he will be staying in office."
Kitzhaber was re-elected 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."
Kitzhaber has cancelled a public Valentine's Day tree-planting event in the Portland suburb of Tigard, a spokesman for the organization Friends of Trees said Wednesday.