By Jeremy Lott
This week brought news that Oregon taxpayers are on the hook for $35,000, per person, in legal fees for a clown car packed to the wheel-wells with Democratic politicians and consultants.
The newly subsidized include disgraced ex-governor John Kitzhaber, forced to step down last month. Also covered under that law would be the state’s former first lady and Kitzhaber’s fiancée and business associate Cylvia Hayes, forced to flee the governor’s mansion in Salem last month; as well as sixteen of the couple’s closest friends and cronies.
So long as this stays a criminal matter, the state’s liability is capped at $35,000 per head. However, there are going to be related lawsuits and, the reporter for the Oregonian wryly notes, “In civil cases there is no cap.” To figure out what the state’s total legal bill will come to, start at $630,000 ($35,000 x 18, according to the back of our envelope) and leave the meter running until, let’s say, 2020. That might get close to the final price tag.
Yet even that midsized legal fortune may not scratch the surface of what Kitzhaber could cost Oregonians from beyond his freshly dug political grave. The ex-governor’s highly political stamp on Oregon healthcare continues to be felt, in bad ways and worse ones.
Former secretary of state and unelected governor Kate Brown decided to push through Kitzhaber’s nominee Lynne Saxton as head of the Oregon Health Authority Thursday. Tens of thousands of Oregonians, at least, could lose federal healthcare subsidies after a Supreme Court decision this summer, all because of one short-sighted, all-eyes-on-reelection choice that Kitzhaber made.
Few outside the state had much knowledge of Kitzhaber prior to his downfall, but in Oregon he was on par with, say, Jerry Brown in California. Kitzhaber served two terms as Oregon governor from the mid-nineties to the early aughts, took some time off and came back for unprecedented third and fourth terms. The fourth term, especially, was a terrible idea, lasting only 38 days. It collapsed on February 18 under the weight of multiple scandals and a federal probe.
Several different and still unfolding scandals involved Kitzhaber, Hayes, and a consultant who “liked to call herself the Princess of Darkness,” reports the Willamette Week, along with all the other normal cronies whose defense Oregonians will soon be footing the bill for.
The substance of the scandals concerns Obamacare; green energy; influence peddling; hiding or attempting to destroy thousands of government emails; and quite possibly launching a lawsuit against a government contractor as a ruse to deflect blame for spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a failed Obamacare website and thereby win re-election.
Kitzhaber’s scandals are startling. They lift him up as the new poster boy for term limits and raise anew the problem of one party having a hammerlock on the governor’s mansion, particularly if that party is the Democrats.
Good government liberals often argue that Democrats, as the “natural party of government,” are more comfortable with the mechanics of government. In theory, this makes for better governance. In reality, they may simply be more shameless about gaming the system — hustling taxpayers in the name of the common good.
These scandals are also confusing and mind-boggling in scope. A few days before Kitzhaber’s resignation announcement, American Commitment president Phil Kerpen wrote that he was “amazed” the Oregon governor “has a bigger scandal than wasting $300 million of federal grants on Cover Oregon.” “That,” he deadpanned, “takes serious corruption skills.”
Indeed it does. As a toast to those mad skills, The American Spectator is going to host not one article looking at Kitzhaber’s downfall over the next month, but several. Maybe dozens. It’s a series that we’d like to formally christen the Oregon Trial.
You might want to know at the outset all of what the series will cover. The honest answer is we don’t know yet. Sure, we have some idea. We know, for instance, that we’ll look at Kitzhaber’s mania for secrecy, which led him to try to get thousands of emails purged from state government servers. And of course we’ll look at how he flushed $300 million down the drain on an Obamacare insurance exchange website that never worked.
It follows that we’ll look at how Kitzhaber turned that federally-funded state initiative over to a political consultant, and how that decision could cost Oregonians a bundle if the Supreme Court rules “the wrong way” this year. We’ll look at his attempts to shift blame with a lawsuit against government contractor Oracle, and at how that suit could cost Oregon taxpayers even more money. We’ll look at how Oregon’s First Couple gamed the system for profit and reelection. We’ll check in on the progress of the federal probe that finally forced them from office.
From there, we’ll go where the leads and the headlines take us. The scandals from Salem are rocking Oregon daily. Because of the a heavy East Coast concentration of American media, “the West Coast” is usually shorthand for “California.” That means the Duck and Beaver State often gets the short-shrift. Which is a shame, because the food in Portland is way better than New York, and the corruption is every bit as juicy.
Jeremy Lott is managing editor of The American Spectator, a contributor to EconoStats, and the author of several books and a haiku.