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Oregon's second in command abruptly returns from capital

By JONATHAN COOPER
Of the Associated Press

SALEM — As an ethics controversy has prompted calls for Oregon's governor to resign, the woman who would replace him abruptly left a conference in Washington, D.C., to return home Wednesday.

It wasn't clear whether the unscheduled return of Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown had anything to do with the influence-peddling allegations surrounding Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes.

Brown's spokesman, Tony Green, said he didn't know why Brown left the National Association of Secretaries of State meeting. She's the organization's president.

Kitzhaber was not available for comment Wednesday. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Kitzhaber, Amy Wojcicki, said she doesn't know whether the governor and Brown have spoken in the past 24 hours.

Brown and Kitzhaber are both Democrats.

Newspapers have called for Kitzhaber's resignation over allegations that Hayes used the governor's office to land contracts for her consulting business. She's accused of facilitating meetings and advocating policies that she was being paid to promote.

Kitzhaber has denied wrongdoing and has said he won't step down. He's said he and Hayes worked hard to avoid conflicts between Hayes’ public and private roles and said a state ethics commission would decide whether they had succeeded.

Hayes has not publicly addressed the allegations.

Kitzhaber was re-elected by a wide margin three months ago. He easily defeated state Rep. Dennis Richardson, who pounded Kitzhaber over the Hayes scandal. Two of Richardson's advisers have taken early steps to begin a recall effort.

A series of newspaper reports since October have chronicled Hayes’ work for organizations with an interest in Oregon public policy. During the same period, she worked as an unpaid adviser in the governor's office. The spotlight on Hayes led to her revelation that she accepted about $5,000 to illegally marry an immigrant seeking immigration benefits in the 1990s. Later, she acknowledged purchasing a remote property with the intent to grow marijuana.

“Recent allegations relating to Gov. Kitzhaber and Ms. Hayes are very serious — and troubling,” Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. “My office is considering all of our legal options to ensure that we are best serving the state.”

Rosenblum has opened a criminal investigation.

Kitzhaber has repeatedly declined to appoint a special prosecutor, saying it's unnecessary.

A fiercely private person, Kitzhaber has been forced to answer embarrassing and personal questions about his relationship. In response to questions at the news conference last week, Kitzhaber told reporters that he's in love with Hayes, but he's not blinded by it.

Some state leaders from his party have openly criticized him. Others have notably avoided defending him.

“The governor is facing serious challenges and he's hurting,” Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem, a longtime legislator who has worked with Kitzhaber for decades, said recently. “I want to be fair. I want to be compassionate. I want to do my job the best I can. I will not speculate on his future.”

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