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Slant 2-19-2015

John Kitzhaber. Photo by Todd Cooper.

John Kitzhaber grew up in Eugene. His father taught at the UO. His mother was state president of the League of Women Voters. We have never doubted his integrity and still don’t until proven otherwise through full due process of the law. We do have doubts about his judgment with the role of his “first lady,” fiancé Cylvia Hayes. As one of our readers quipped this week: “At a minimum, Kitzhaber needs a pre-nup.”

In the end he had few political allies. Maybe that’s inevitable after 35 years in politics, “the art of the possible,” where compromise forces a leader to shed friends along the way. Kitzhaber famously made fierce enemies when he told then-governor Barbara Roberts that he was challenging her in the primary, a bitter pill after she had survived recall efforts and the death of her husband in her first term. She was a good governor, sure to be better with a second term. Roberts was one of the early Democratic voices to call for his resignation.

One progressive activist remarked ruefully that “Oregon Democrats always eat their young.” This is especially ironic when in the November election Oregon was the only state to add Democrats to both legislative houses and to retain a D governor, both senators and all but a lone Republican in the congressional delegation. Democrats, unlike Republicans, rarely fall into hierarchy and lockstep.

Certainly the five members of The Oregonian editorial board led the pack in hounding Kitzhaber out of office. The Salem Statesman Journal wrote that The Oregonian has “Pulitzer Pox,” deliriously seeking another Pulitzer Prize for editorials. The Portland daily, now a miserable tabloid with stapled inserts that fall out and interrupt your reading, probably still smarts from the Pulitzer won by Willamette Week for its fine investigative reporting on Neil Goldschmidt. But there should be a caveat in The Oregonian’s role in the Kitzhaber resignation; if this Republican/libertarian editorial board can force a revered four-term governor out of office, who is next? 

As Gov. Kate Brown takes up the torch, the 2016 election already looms. Will Treasurer Ted Wheeler challenge her, the sitting governor, as Kitzhaber did Barbara Roberts, or does he even want the incredibly tough job? He probably hasn’t decided.

• Last week we wrote about the proposed $35 vehicle registration fee heading for the May ballot and we heard from one Springfield reader who describes himself as “very poor” but needing that 30-year-old beater car he got from St. Vinnie’s to haul his aging carcass around. He says the extra $35 will hurt. He suggests the measure include some kind of low-income exemption, but would an application process for such exemptions be cumbersome and expensive to manage? Any new fee or tax is likely to meet resistance by grumpy voters. Still, we need to keep in mind that property taxes in Lane County are not adequate to cover the basic services we need for health, safety and prosperity. We’re spoiled, subsidized for many years by federal timber dollars that are now going away. 

• Oregon House and Senate bills to require paid sick days statewide are going before the Legislature, inspired in part by city regulations that passed in Portland and Eugene. Here’s another example of bottom-up political change. Congress these days is not likely to take any progressive action, so it’s up to local government to pressure state government to evolve and set standards that eventually will be adopted nationwide.