Friday, February 13, 2015

Oregon Governor's Resignation Will Mean a Bruise for Clean Energy

Image result for john kitzhaber cylvia hayesOregon's governor is probably going to resign today -- and if not today, then surely very soon -- and that's going to be a black mark against clean energy.

Or, at least, that's how some anti-clean people will no doubt spin it.

John Kitzhaber was just elected to another four-year term in November. He was already a three-term governor who had first served in 1995-2003, and called Oregon "ungovernable" in the tail of his second administration. But then he ran again and was elected in 2010 and reelected last year. (It didn't hurt that Republicans ran a socially conservative troglodyte.) Kitzhaber was a progressive Democrat for a mostly (by population, at least) progressive state.

But his relationship with his current girlfriend (now fiance) Cylvia Hayes has brought them both down.

She brought some baggage with her that only recently came out. When she was younger she married a Ethiopian immingrant for money, just so he could get a green card in the U.S. Then she had a significant role in an plan to grow marijuana in Washington state.

Then came the revelation just two weeks ago that Hayes was paid $118,000 for communications work with the Clean Economy Development Center in Washington D.C., which works to promote clean energy clean projects. Except she was also listed as an adviser to Kitzhaber on renewable energy, an obvious conflict of interest.

Things spiraled quickly down from there. FOIA requests by Williamette Week and the Oregonian showed that Hayes had -- or rather, that Kitzhaber let her have -- a great deal of leeway in his office. She had a part-time desk there. She made personal requests of his staff members. And one staff member was fired after asking whether Hayes was going to be allowed to go "on her merry way" through policy meetings.

And THEN, just a few days ago and a day before an ethics commission was to come into being, it came out that Kitzhaber requested that thousands of emails from his personal Gmail account be deleted.

In an action that should win an award, a computer administrator deep in the state's archiving system who was givn Kitzhaber's request, decided she'd better ask her supervisor first. It was passed up the management chain several more times, until a upper manager decided against the request.

In just the last day or two even Kitzhaber's friends said he needed to go. Democrats abandoned him, the Secretary of State (who will replace him when he resigns) spoke of some weird behavior after, at his request, she returned to the state from a conference in D.C.

It's been very surprising how fast this all happened -- at the beginning of the week it looked like Kitzhaber, through wounded, would surely stay in office. Now he's lost all support and will have to resign, if he hasn't by the time I end this paragraph. They'll be ethics and criminal inquiries -- and there should be -- but with Kitzhaber gone I wonder how much steam they'll have. Oregon isn't a Republican state (except by area), with both houses of the legislature controlled by Democrats -- so this isn't much political hay that can be made.

Personally I liked Kitzhaber a good deal, and voted for him twice. But I recognize he has to go. It makes me angry. Kitzhaber was a strong environmentalist, stopped the death penalty from being used during his term, and also a former emergency room doctor who strove to bring health care to the uninsured and to fully implement the Affordable Care Act here -- even after the state spent several hundred million doctors building a state exchange that was a catastrophe. (It's since been abandoned for the federal exchange.) Kitzhaber was also a strong backer of a new bridge over the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington state, that was also abandoned after a couple hundred million was spent on its design.

But the clean energy effort here, and maybe elsewhere, will take a hit, especially for the usual suspects. Oregon is already a fairly clean state in how it generates its energy, thanks to a lot of hydropower from Columbia River dams. The state's last coal-fired power plant, in Boardman, is slated to be closed by the end of this decade. And a couple of Oregon counties are making out nicely from wind power agreements -- when you drive east out of the Columbia River Gorge, there are miles and miles of hundreds of huge wind turbines on both sides of the river that look pretty impressive (and not too much of a blight).

It's also unfortunate because who doesn't think anymore that these kind of backroom machinations happen in other states all the time. You can't tell me there aren't fossil fuel "consultants" meeting with high-level reps of state governors down in his mansion's kitchen at midnight. (And plenty of other industry representatives too.)

But it's not supposed to involve your girlfriend, and it's not supposed to come out in emails you later decide you'd like to have deleted. Just keep your significant other out of your administration, OK? (You have to admit Republicans seem to do a better job of this than Democrats. Or maybe they're just afraid to marry strong women.)

And now I must leave to go set my cynicism level a few notches higher. Again.

Update 12:10 pm: Here's a timelime of the scandal.
Update 12:15 pm: Several media outlets are reporting Kitzhaber says he will resign.

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