What a difference a week makes! I’m shocked and saddened that he walked away the way he did. The most painful part for me was watching a news clip of him Wednesday night repeatedly telling a reporter he had no intention of resigning. There was no toughness, just the raspy monotone of a defeated man.
My initial reaction to House Speaker Tina Kotek, Senate President Peter Courtney and Treasurer Ted Wheeler’s public Democratic pile-on press conferences on Thursday was that it was hasty, without due process for John himself and a guilt-by-association reaction to a “distraction” (what was her name again?) created by the Oregonian’s Republican-leaning muckraking. But as I mulled it over this weekend, I realized there probably was no alternative: Red flags thrown by well-respected Kitzhaber insiders were either given lip service or simply ignored by the couple during his third term in office.
I still stick by what I said last week, though — you can tell a lot about a man by the enemies he makes. An anti-Kitzhaber/Hayes mailer urging voters to call Majority Leader Val Hoyle to oppose the fuel carbon emission standards bill hit Val’s district before you could spell “influence peddling.” But you can also tell a lot about a man by the way he responds to his friends. This is where the train goes off the rail for the governor and what’s-her-name.
I’ve known Peter Courtney for as long as I’ve known John Kitzhaber, over 20 years. Courtney was my Democratic caucus leader or Senate president the entire time I served. And he and John go back another 10 years plus. I know that press appearance on Thursday calling for John to resign had to eat Peter alive. No one in that building has a stronger sense of institutional integrity and respect for the elected officials who serve in the process — regardless of party or voting record — than Peter Courtney. When he comes to deliver the executioner’s message, it means he’s tried every other alternative possible, without success.
We all know from recent history that the Oregon Legislature is a difficult place to get things done in a six-month whirlwind session. We all know that each legislative assembly arises anew without legal or political attachment to previous sessions, a tabula rasa soon to be scribbled upon by two opinionated gangs of third-graders whose only vow to each other is to end the session sine die some future day, maybe, after delivering a relatively balanced budget.
Each session has its own personality, driven by the intensity of the moment, horse-trading, posturing, deal-making, working both sides of the aisle, counting votes and consulting with the other two branches of government. When activities in the executive branch spill out into the Capitol, activities that overshadow potential legislative progress, it doesn’t really matter if they arose through yellow journalism or best-practices research. Kotek and Courtney reached the same conclusion, a public execution, only after their inner dialogue with the executive branch was ignored. Leadership is leadership. I trust those folks. It had to be done.
Gov. Kate Brown will do just fine; she’s had plenty of experience herding cats as the Senate Democratic leader my last session. I served in both chambers with her. She’s a tough Portland liberal, and I mean that in a nice way. She’s strong on civil and women’s rights, education funding, environmental issues, and she’s a good friend of public employees. I agree she might have a different strategy for slicing and dicing the public education dollar, but I think on the carbon emission fuel standards issue, ironically, she’ll be in the same policy position as the previous administration.
Given my perverse and deviant political nature, as the session progresses I’m really going to be zoned in on how much fun Kate, Tina and Val are going to have at the expense of their male Republican and Democrat counterparts during their big-pants leadership negotiation soirees. Believe me: Courtney, Teddy Ferrioli and Mike McLane are in for some serious estrogen therapy. Let’s hope, sports fans, it’s not another NFL-style “Deflate-gate.”