SALEM — Secretary of State Kate Brown says she is unsure what to make of a meeting between her and Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is under pressure to resign.
Brown, who will succeed Kitzhaber if he resigns, said the governor asked her this week to return to Oregon as soon as possible from a conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss a transition in the governorship.
But when Brown arrived home Wednesday afternoon and was wisked into a private meeting with the governor, Kitzhaber questioned why Brown cut short her trip and said he had no plans to resign.
Brown recounted the series of events in a statement Thursday morning, after her abrupt departure from the conference fueled rumors that Kitzhaber planned to resign.
“This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation,” Brown wrote in the statement.
Kitzhaber issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, while Brown was flying back from Washington, D.C., saying he did not plan to resign.
Brown said Kitzhaber called on Tuesday afternoon and “asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone.”
Brown arrived in Oregon at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday.
“I was escorted directly into a meeting with the governor,” Brown wrote. “It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, D.C, which I found strange. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition.”
Brown did not provide any further details of their discussion about a transition. The Oregonian and The Associated Press have reported Kitzhaber planned to resign late this week, but changed his mind after speaking with his personal attorney and with his fiancee Cylvia Hayes.
“I informed the governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign,” Brown wrote. “Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon.”
News of the meeting left observers scratching their heads.
“I am stunned,” says former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Kitzhaber’s successor and predecessor, who otherwise did not want to elaborate on Brown’s statement after it was read to him by phone. “This is not the John Kitzhaber I know.”
Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College, said Brown was attending a conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, where she was to give an address on Oregon’s motor voter bill. She is president of the organization.
“It’s not a small thing to leave a meeting like that in the middle,” she said. “That is a big important meeting and you don’t just leave it on a lark,” he said.“Now why would you call the secretary of state back on an emergency, overnight expensive flight to tell her you’re not resigning?
“That is just not credible,” he said. “It’s strange.”
— The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.