Requiem for a Governor

John Kitzhaber, who is currently serving his fourth term as governor of Oregon, is the most popular politician in that state’s modern history. I knew John as a college student. He was a few years older than me, and I admired him greatly. He was a good student, not brilliant but tremendously charismatic. At that time, he had no interest in politics and was anything but a liberal. He was consumed with getting into medical school at the University of Oregon, where his father was the dean. He made it, and became an emergency room physician, a role for which he was well suited. John had, as they say, brass balls.

On election night 1994, I was astonished to learn that John had been elected governor of Oregon. This was my first inkling that he was interested in politics. I was doubly surprised that he was a Democrat. No one who knew him in the late 1960s would have expected that. The press described him as one of a small number of avowedly liberal Democrats who won in that big Republican year.

The people of Oregon loved him, and he was re-elected easily in 1998. After sitting out for a while as required by Oregon’s constitution, he ran for governor again, and won. In the meantime, President Obama reportedly wanted to appoint him Secretary of the Interior, but John didn’t want to leave Oregon. He was re-elected last November, despite serious issues that arose during his third term, most notably the disastrous rollout of Oregon’s Obamacare system.

But now it has all come crashing down. Both Democrats and Republicans are calling on Kitzhaber to resign, and the state’s largest newspaper, the Portland Oregonian, a Democratic Party organ, has also said that he must go. What has caused this appalling downfall? As Scott says, Cherchez la femme! No one who knew John in the old days would be surprised that he was brought down by a woman: John loved women, and women loved John. Which, of course, is why we freshmen admired him so much.

In this case, the woman is Kitzhaber’s fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. The problem is that Ms. Hayes is a wheeler-dealer in her own right, in the field of green energy. To make a long story short, she has traded on her unique access to Oregon’s governor by earning consultant’s fees from various “green” energy organizations who stand to benefit from the state’s support. To make matters worse, she apparently failed to report some of those consulting fees on her tax returns. There are other embarrassments, too: she once accepted $5,000 to enter into a sham marriage with an African who needed a legal basis to stay in the U.S.–a marriage that she forgot to mention to the governor. Also, she bought, or tried to buy, Oregon real estate for the purpose of running a marijuana farm. Before it was legal.

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

Ms. Hayes has been Oregon’s “first lady” for some time now, and has profited, materially and otherwise, from that status. Was Governor Kitzhaber blinded by love? He denies it, but the facts don’t look good. John was always a romantic, of a certain kind. Sadly, his behavior in the current crisis is becoming erratic. He apparently told staff members that he intended to resign, and then summoned Oregon’s Secretary of State home from Washington. Presumably this was to tell her that upon his resignation, she would be governor, according to Oregon law. But when she arrived in Oregon, he reportedly was confused as to why she was there:

Brown said the governor had asked her to fly back to Oregon from a conference in Washington, D.C., but when she arrived, he asked why she had returned.

“This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation,” Brown said in a statement.

She said Kitzhaber told her he’s not resigning, but then began a discussion about a transition.

It seems pretty clear that we are on a death watch, and Kitzhaber’s days as governor are numbered. I take no pleasure in the downfall of an old friend. Was he blinded by love? Well, yeah, it seems obvious that he was. But one more observation is in order: the whole “green energy” industry is a massive scam.

Green energy cannot compete on a level playing field with fossil fuels, so it depends on government subsidies and mandates. This leads to endless corruption. It happens at the federal level, as we have documented dozens of times, and Oregon’s experience shows that it happens at the state level, too. John Kitzhaber is a great guy and, I am sure, a fine doctor, but I doubt that he knows much about the economics of energy. Most likely, he joins in his party’s unthinking assumption that “green” energy must be good, and therefore should be favored by government policy.

His fiancee–at last word, their relationship continues–was, perhaps, more sophisticated. She understood, it seems, that “green” energy only survives by government fiat. Therefore, those who are in a position to command government’s support–like, for example, the “first lady” of Oregon–occupy a valuable position which can be turned into cold cash. The entire “green energy” movement is hopelessly corrupt, and the Oregon example lifts just a corner of the curtain that allows us to see the corruption that lies behind feel-good talk about solar and wind energy.

All of that said, if John Kitzhaber is going down, as it now appears, I regret it. He was a good friend and I have no doubt that he governed according to his best judgment of what was good for the state of Oregon. My guess is that he simply failed to understand how corrupt the entire “green energy” movement is. And, of course, he was betrayed by love. Worse things could be said of a man who spent his life in the arena, saving the grievously injured and fighting for what he thought–rightly or wrongly–were optimal public policies.

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