John Kitzhaber’s latest tour of duty in the governor’s chair has exposed him as an empty suit in terms of faithfully overseeing the government he runs.
First, he hired education czar Rudy Crew. Remember him?
Crew checked in to his $280,000 a year job as Oregon’s first chief education officer in June 2012. Hailed by Kitzhaber as a man with a track record of leadership and innovation, his collapse as a leader was quick and dramatic.
Crew spent a year travelling extensively, often first class, on the state’s dime to speak at non-Oregon related events, took vacations at every turn, and made the scrambled eggs-and-bacon circuit around the state, telling the same heartwarming stories over and over again, while he continued to make money on the side. On July 1, 2013, Crew checked out and headed back East, a failed experiment in every way.
“How big of a setback was the Rudy Crew fiasco?” Portland Business Journal Publisher Craig Wessel asked Kitzhaber in January 2014. “It had to be difficult.”
“It was,” Kitzhaber responded. “It was an embarrassment.”
It was more than that. It was a complete failure to exercise good judgment and to oversee the performance of a key figure in Kitzhaber’s administration.
Then there’s Cover Oregon, another debacle.
Millions were spent there on a disastrous website, ubiquitous advertising and highly paid top staff (The total compensation of the each of the top ten highest paid of Cover Oregon’s employees in early 2014 was between $154,000 and $229,000, more than their boss, Kitzhaber.) In April 2014, Cover Oregon’s board of directors voted to close the state-run exchange and adopt the Federal HealthCare.gov exchange in 2015.
Cover Oregon’s troubles were compounded when the state tried shenanigans to avoid making public a scathing report on the program by consultant, Clyde Hamstreet. The report was made available to the media only after it was requested under Oregon Public Records Law.
“In retrospect, I should have been more engaged in the (Cover Oregon) project,” Kitzhaber said in November 2013. I’ll say.
Then there’s the matter of First Lady Cylvia Hayes.
On Oct. 8, Willamette Week raised serious questions about her business dealings and possible conflicts of interest while associated with Kitzhaber. Subsequent stories have disclosed that, unknown to Kitzhaber, Hayes accepted $5,000 as payment for illegally marrying an Ethiopian immigrant in 1997, allowing the man to remain in the U.S.
On Oct. 12, Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to determine whether Hayes is subject to state ethics laws and, if so, whether she has broken them.
A better question is why is he only paying attention now? Where has he been since his third term began on ensuring that all of Hayes’ business relationships comported fully with state ethics rules?
Pay attention, John.