- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - While finishing his second term as governor in 2002, John Kitzhaber was bitter and discouraged about the state’s leaders and its voters, according to newly released excerpts from his personal journal.

“Nobody seems to care,” Kitzhaber wrote in the middle of a huge budget crisis that threatened schools and other services. “The State is sleeping. Indifferent.”

Kitzhaber criticized the legislative leadership, the business community - and also his own inability to get much done. “What a sad way to finish my political career,” he wrote.

Kitzhaber’s rocky last year of his first two terms as governor is a well-documented part of his time in elective office, which ended in February when he resigned under pressure just three months after being elected to a record fourth term.

But the new excerpts - attached to a pair of 2012 emails to Kitzhaber released along with thousands of other records this week - offer a stark view of just how disenchanted he was with politics. They also provide an unusual glimpse into the private thoughts of the man who was the state’s longest-serving governor before his career collapsed amid an influence-peddling scandal.

In 2002, an economic downturn devastated Oregon’s economy, causing a budget shortfall approaching $2 billion. After a series of special sessions, legislators agreed to refer a temporary tax increase to the ballot. Voters rejected it in 2003.

In the fall of 2002, Kitzhaber in a speech famously called the state “ungovernable.” That was used against him when he ran for an unprecedented third term in 2010.

Republican nominee Chris Dudley said Kitzhaber’s remark showed that he didn’t have the ability to lead the state. Kitzhaber, who narrowly defeated Dudley, said he was only warning that the state would never solve its financial problems unless legislators rose above partisan infighting.

But the new excerpts show that Kitzhaber’s despair in 2002 was even greater than he let on publicly. The journal excerpts were included in a batch of 5,000 Kitzhaber emails from 2011 and 2012 released by Gov. Kate Brown’s office in response to public records requests from The Oregonian/OregonLive.

In 2012, Kitzhaber asked aides to retrieve his journal entries from periods in the summer and fall that covered the most intense periods of his decade-old battle with the Republican-led Legislature. It’s unclear why he wanted to do this, although he may have wanted to refer to that period in discussing how the state should deal with current fiscal problems.

In the 2002 excerpts, Kitzhaber repeatedly scored Republican leaders for proposing to borrow their way out of much of the budget crisis. He was also unhappy with many Democratic lawmakers, and with business leaders and voters whom he thought had checked out.

He also said he was “so disappointed and disillusioned with Ted Kulongoski,” although he didn’t offer specifics of the fellow Democrat who was then in the middle of a successful race to be the state’s next governor.

Kitzhaber was also harsh on himself.

“I haven’t done much with my pulpit,” he said, noting that he had repeatedly failed to change the debate over how to handle the budget crisis.

“I am ready for all this to be over,” Kitzhaber wrote on Sept. 8, 2002. “It is a bitter way to end a 22 year career in public service. But (it is) another reminder that our current governance structure and/or political system are incapable of effectively dealing with our problems. The private sector leadership of the State is not at all engaged. Such hypocrisy and cynicism and apathy. How very disillusioning.”

Kitzhaber went on to question whether he’d had any lasting impact on Oregon, saying that his efforts to improve health care and education were being “devastated” by the budget crisis.

“Perhaps my future should not be about trying to solve public policy issues,” he wrote.

Earlier in the budget crisis, on June 21, he talked about how he had “disengaged from my staff and the process” as he felt the “inability to do anything.”

While Kitzhaber repeatedly told legislators they should enact tax increases to preserve services, he also expressed doubts about “centralized government” and its inability to engage people to work at the community level.

“Partly because of the insular nature of our governmental structure - and partly due to other factors - people have come to expect government to solve problems for them,” he wrote on July 13, 2002. “They elect leaders who tell them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear in order to solve problems.”

On July 24, 2002, he added:

“‘Adaptive’ challenges like drug abuse, poverty and racism cannot be solved by someone on high. They are going to be solved by people in communities making adjustments in their lives and the way they organize themselves.”

The journal excerpts don’t refer to the personal disarray in Kitzhaber’s life at the time. His second marriage was falling apart. He and his wife, Sharon, announced the week after he left the governorship in 2003 that they were divorcing.

After leaving office in 2003, Kitzhaber sought to work with nonprofit groups to create what he once described as a “new space for civic engagement” on health care and other intractable public-policy issues. But his success was limited and he briefly considered making a political comeback to run as an independent against Kulongoski in 2006.

Kitzhaber had also become romantically involved with Cylvia Hayes, a former legislative candidate and clean energy consultant with her own political ambitions, and she frequently campaigned with him when he ran in 2010. After he won, Hayes quickly carved out a substantial policy role in his new administration.

Kitzhaber, by then in his mid-60s, said he was more relaxed than in his first two terms and had a better sense of how to govern the state.

But revelations about whether Hayes’ consulting contracts conflicted with her public roles sparked a media firestorm and a federal investigation. Democratic legislative leaders told Kitzhaber in February that it was time for him to step down.


The original story can be found on The Oregonian’s website: https://bit.ly/1FzHSzC


Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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