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IN AFTERMATH OF SCANDAL, OREGON'S NEW GOVERNOR PROPOSES REFORMS

Echoes of scandalous revelations still roil Oregon politics in the wake of a longtime governor's recent resignation.

But new Gov. Kate Brown hopes her clean government proposals will usher in a tamer political climate along with Salem's normally temperate spring.

She has announced three legislative proposals dealing with public records and ethics: one would call for a Secretary of State audit on the current process for accessing public records. Two other bills would address ethical standards for those close to the governor, including the first spouse. 1/

Brown is tackling head-on the issues raised by the departure of former Gov. John Kitzhaber. He resigned as stories of alleged ethical violations swirled around him. The allegations included charges against Kitzhaber's fiance Cylvia Hayes, who as the governor's partner was Oregon's first lady.

"Oregon's government belongs to its people, and an informed, engaged populace is essential to democracy," Brown said. "Another essential element is trust, and rebuilding that trust begins now. These reforms are designed to ensure the timely fulfillment of public records requests, to hold public officials accountable, and foster a culture of transparency." 2/

While Oregon has not had a Republican governor for 28 years, Brown, a Democrat like Kitzhaber, does not have an open political field in front of her. Republicans see their own chance ripening for a long-awaited political score -- they have their eyes on 2016, when Brown would have to win an election to stay in office. She has not yet stated whether she would run.

The GOP is not letting any honeymoon period for the state's new leader get in the way of voicing objections to some of her policies. When Brown recently signed on to extending Oregon's Clean Fuels Program, Republicans cried foul, saying it hurts Oregonians and the state's transportation needs.

"Oregon has long been a leader in carbon reduction and pioneering environmental policies, but we cannot abide laws that sacrifice our small businesses and working families in their wake," wrote state Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) in the conservative blog, Oregon Catalyst. "Ultimately, this is a matter of priorities. We need a transportation package that strengthens our infrastructure and grows our economy." 3/

As Oregonians and the state's media carefully scrutinize dealings in Salem, the governor is moving forward with an unabashed political housecleaning

Brown ended the state's contract with a "forest policy adviser" to Kitzhaber who "collected nearly $400,000 in fees and expenses from the state while also running a consulting business," according to The Associated Press, citing a story in The Oregonian/OregonLive. 4/

Meanwhile, a report of another potential conflict of interest stopped a bill cold in the state Senate. On March 13 The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that a Democratic state senator had withdrawn his support from an environmental bill over reports that his family's business would benefit from the bill's passage. 5/ Earlier, Willamette Week, an alternative weekly based in Portland, had revealed the connection between the subject matter of the bill and the family connection of the senator. 6/

Oregonians seem ready for a change. Although Brown is a relatively familiar figure to Oregonians as former Secretary of State, she still received a kind of new-neighbor-on-the-block media welcome when she and the first gentleman, her husband Dan Little, moved from Portland to the official governor's mansion, Mahonia Hall, in Salem.

The Statesman Journal, a Salem-based daily, consecrated their arrival with a feature story: "The couple say they share a love of older homes and established neighborhoods and are looking forward to being part of the energetic south Salem area with sweeping vistas of the Willamette River and the West Salem hills." 7/

The Tudor mansion will be "heaven for us," Brown told the Statesman Journal, while noting wryly that in the kitchen she "can only reach the first shelf" with what the paper describes as "her less than 6-foot height." 8/

As Oregon's 38th governor, Brown faces a more daunting task in her official duties with her pledge to open up previously hidden spaces in the state's bureaucracy.

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1/ http://www.oregon.gov/newsroom/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?newsid=624
2/ ibid.
3/ http://oregoncatalyst.com/30254-gov-kate-brown-spurns-bipartisanship-sacrifices-road-funding.html
4/ http://theworldlink.com/news/state-and-regional/brown-ends-contract-with-kitzhaber-adviser-business-owner/article_230c266b-f94d-5d70-b2b1-201009ee96d0.html
5/ http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/03/admitting_conflict_of_interest.html
6/ http://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-32941-sen_chip_shields_pushes_a_bill_that_could_benefit_his_familys_business.html
7/ Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2015/03/08/governor-making-home-mahonia-hall/24629357/ Carol McAlice Currie, March 9, 2015
8/ Ibid.

 


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