The legacy of Kitzhaber

After a long month of speculation, investigations and possible cover-ups, Governor John Kitzhaber has finally resigned.

I was born in 1993, and Kitzhaber has been governor for the majority of my life. It was a weird end to a career that was otherwise successful and pretty respectable, and I have a lot of mixed feelings about both the resignation and about Kitzhaber.

To me, Kitzhaber will always be the governor who sat by and didn’t do much while tuition skyrocketed and public school funding slipped away. I’m not a fan of a lot of the concessions that he made for companies like Nike and Intel, ostensibly to keep them in the state. It’s easy to pin a lot of the problems I have with corporate-friendly Democrats as a whole on Kitzhaber alone, but I’ll readily admit that almost any governor would likely have made the same deals, if not worse ones. Despite those reservations, I know Kitz did a lot of good things too.

Kitzhaber earned himself the nickname Dr. No after vetoing nearly 200 bills between 1995 and 1999. Because of that veto-heavy period, a lot of people have credited him with helping Oregon avoid a lot of the economic and environmental problems that other states faced in the early 2000s and are still facing today. He kept the tradition of conservation alive, made inroads on a much stronger and more affordable healthcare system in Oregon, and as many people have pointed out, we could have had governors that were so much worse than him. If people are disappointed that Kitz was a governor who sometimes had troublesome stances and whose career ultimately ended in scandal, imagine how much worse we would have been with Bill Sizemore as governor.

Depending on how the upcoming months of investigation go, I think Kitz will be remembered as a man who stuck to his principles. One of his more recent vetoes, in 2013, was a bill which made it easier for Oregon high schools to keep their Native American mascots. His moratorium on the death penalty caused a lot of controversy, but he stuck to his guns. Even if Kitzhaber is found guilty of abusing his power, I think he still deserves to be remembered as a strong governor who did a lot of good things for Oregon.

However, he characterized the events leading up to his resignation as a “trial by media,” and I can’t agree with that assessment.

Whether or not he’s guilty, the last few months have more than proved that it’s time for a new governor. I don’t think he underwent a trial by media as much as he did a vote of no confidence. He wasn’t exercising good judgment in his personal life no matter whether or not he’s actually guilty of a crime, and his reputation was shot.

That reputation would have had repercussions for getting the issues that he cared about passed. The Oregonian and KATU both conducted polls which showed that there weren’t a lot of Oregonians left who had faith in his ability to govern. Watching Kitzhaber’s investigation and subsequent trial would have become a huge distraction from the important things the legislature is working on this term. Ultimately, I think this resignation is a good thing and I wish he had just left it at three terms and let a younger Democrat run back in May.

It’s time to move on from our former governor’s weird, increasingly sad personal life and focus on the positives. 2015 has the potential to be such a great year for Oregon. We’ve got bills for universal voter registration and statewide paid sick days. There’s a minimum wage bill from the 15Now coalition, and next month the legislature will have its first meeting on the Pay It Forward pilot program. I’m also excited for Kate Brown as governor, because I think her work on universal voter registration has been great and I know she has a real passion for electoral reform.

I hope that Kitzhaber comes out clean from the investigation, and that his messy personal life improves. But what I really hope is that Oregon can move forward and keep building on the legacy of progressive issues he’s left behind.