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John Kitzhaber Says He's Going Public Again — Although Not To Run For Office

<p>Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber talks about his future plans at a downtown Portland coffee shop on March 17, 2016.</p>

Jeff Mapes


Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber talks about his future plans at a downtown Portland coffee shop on March 17, 2016.

Thirteen months after he resigned the Oregon governorship, John Kitzhaber is going public again.

Kitzhaber said he will launch a Facebook page that he says will give him an opportunity to talk about public issues.

In his first extensive interview after his resignation, Kitzhaber told Oregon Public Broadcasting that he stayed quiet for more than a year while federal investigators probed allegations that fiance Cylvia Hayes used her position as first lady to win consulting work.

But he said he hasn't been interviewed by federal agents and that it’s time to get on with his life.

“It’s been a tough year, it’s been a painful year. I’ve obviously struggled with a feeling that I let down people who elected me and certainly was not my intention," Kitzhaber said in an interview Thursday afternoon in a downtown Portland coffee shop. "But I think the biggest lesson for me over the last year is that I’m just not going to let adversity dampen my commitment to these ideas that have motivated me for so long.”

Kitzhaber, who turned 69 this month, said he won’t run for office again. But the ex-governor said he is looking for work.

Obviously, you know, I am looking for a way to contribute ," he said. "I’m also trying to figure out what my career path from a financial standpoint is going to be. And as I said, I do think that will involve some consulting. And if you’re going to do some consulting, people need to know you’re alive and well.”

Kitzhaber refused to comment on the allegations against Hayes and on whether he thought she would be exonerated. He noted that they each have separate defense attorneys.

Kitzhaber also said he was not ready to talk about the specifics of the investigation against him, but he did repeatedly say he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

"I remain confident that when the truth is told and the investigation complete, I will be exonerated," he said. "I am very confident of that."

In the months before his resignation, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission had launched an investigation into the pair, as did the state attorney general's office. But both probes have been on hold while the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice investigate Kitzhaber and Hayes.

Kitzhaber said he and Hayes are still engaged but haven't set a date."We're obviously hoping to get past, obviously, the investigation," he said.

The former governor said he continues to have firm views about issues ranging from health care to tax policy. He said he was troubled by a proposed ballot measure that would raise Oregon corporate taxes by $2.6 billion a year.

Kitzhaber said he agreed the state needed more revenue but said the union-backed initiative failed to reform what he regards as a broken system of paying for schools. And he also said it would cause a bitter rift between business and organized labor that would poison the state's politics.

Kitzhaber offered only brief commentary about his successor, former Secretary of State Kate Brown. Her comments about Kitzhaber's state of mind in his last days of office were widely seen as contributing to pressure for him to resign.

"I think she's obviously had a steep learning curve," he said, "and I'm certainly not going to comment on her job performance."

Since his Feb. 18, 2015 resignation, Kitzhaber said he has done a lot of reading and writing while also doing some river rafting, one of his longtime passions. He also jokingly called himself a "domestic guy," saying he had done a lot of puttering around his house.

Now, he said, "I've just got to the point where I don't want my career or want my reputation to be defined by this narrative that grew out of the last months of my administration."

In a two and one-half minute video, Kitzhaber criticized the media storm that led to his resignation and says he's had second thoughts at times about his decision to step down. He concluded by saying that he is "healing and hopeful" about his future.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.