Oddly enough, John Kitzhaber is not really to blame

The State of Oregon is one of the few states in America that has a citizen initiative process. This means that Oregon voters can enact or repeal laws when their elected representatives fail to respect the will of the citizens. The political elite, like former Governor John Kitzhaber, hate the initiative process with a passion. They are the shepherds and we are the sheep, so how dare we dictate to them!

In 1978 Oregon voters, through the initiative process, enacted the death penalty in a landslide vote. In 1981 the Oregon Supreme Court overturned the 1978 law. In 1984 Oregon voters rebuked the Supreme Court, and reenacted the death penalty by a solid margin. In the following 30 years, no ballot initiative or bill has successfully overturned Oregon’s death penalty laws. Like it or not, it is our law, and there is only one legal process by which it should be repealed – a vote of the people. At least in a democracy, that is the way it is.

Proud of the fact that he “has made a career of doing things his own way,” one of Governor John Kitzhaber’s first major decrees following his win in the Oregon 2010 gubernatorial race was to illegally suspend Oregon’s death penalty. In November of 2011 he announced that, “I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor.” He took this action without a bill or  initiative or vote of the legislature or vote of the people, as though he believed that being a duly elected by people gave him divine authority.

With this 2011 decree Governor Kitzhaber put every controlling legal authority in Oregon on notice that he intended to violate Oregon law whenever he pleased, however he pleased. He then sat back and waited for someone to stop him. No one did. Not Attorney General Ellen “I ignore the Constitution” Rosenblum. Not Senate President Peter Courtney. Not House Speaker Tina Kotek. Not Secretary of State Kate Brown. Not Treasurer Ted Wheeler. Not Oregonian editor Peter Bhatia. And in a 4-3 decision in favor of Kitzhaber, not the Oregon Supreme Court. Not even the citizens of Multnomah County, who repeatedly elected Kitzhaber to office, cared about his blatant disregard for the Rule of Law. For the first time in his political career, instead of chaffing under the law, John Kitzhaber felt elevated above the law, and rightly so. His allies had made him emperor for a day. He would still be emperor today if it were not for Oregon’s lone journalist, Nigel Jaquiss, who doggedly pursued Kitzhaber’s corrupt activities and then force fed the facts to Oregon’s political elites.

While we may never know all the wrongdoings of the former governor and his first lady, Cylvia Hayes, Oregonians and the citizens of Multnomah County know the gist of the situation. Kitzhaber and Hayes had big plans for themselves and for Oregon. Plans so big and so important that they ought not be subject to or scrutinized by something as insignificant as the Rule of Law. They lived this mantra. They won elections with this mantra. And they unrepentantly ended their political careers with this mantra.

Had Oregon’s legislative branch and judicial branch of government done their sworn duty back in 2011, and reigned in Governor Kitzhaber when he unilaterally voided Oregon law, we would not be where we are today. Instead they chose to ignore their legal duties and the Rule of Law, and now my state is in complete political disarray. Had they stood up to the governor in 2011, they would not be forcing him to resign today. There is a lesson to be learned here. When you cut a swath through the law to get at your perceived devil, that devil will always turn on you. Oregon’s political establishment brought this mess on themselves. They deserve every bit of suffering and every sleepless night, for they failed us all. I only hope they learn that exempting themselves from the Rule of Law is bad policy.

My predictions are these:

  • Instead of learning from their mistakes, Kitzhaber’s allies will bend over backwards to rehabilitate his public image with sympathetic anecdotes, editorials and photo montages.
  • The engagement of former Governor John Kitzhaber to former First Lady Cylvia Hayes will shortly be broken.
  • Neither Kitzhaber nor Hayes will go to jail.
  • Whoever Multnomah County elects to replace Kitzhaber in 2016 will be just as bad as the last four people to hold the office.
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