Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber submitted his resignation on Friday, the Associated Press confirms, opening the door for openly bisexual Secretary of State Kate Brown to become the first LGBT female governor in the United States.
Kitzhaber's resignation will take effect 10 a.m., February 18, according to Portland news station KOIN. He met with his staff earlier on Friday to share his plans. Prominent members of his own party had made calls for the Democrat to step down from his post after he and his environmental consultant fiance, Cylvia Hayes, were accused of ethical violations. Hayes allegedly earned approximately $200,000 through contracts tied to her work in Kitzhaber’s cabinet, even though she was listed as an unpaid adviser. Kitzhaber had insisted multiple times that he would not resign in the face of these allegations, and in his last public appearance, Kitzhaber insisted that he had not done anything illegal. His office also reportedly made a failed attempt to destroy thousands of emails, Willamette Week reports.
Brown, who has been in office since 2008, said she and her staff would be prepared to step into the state's top seat, if Kitzhaber resigned.
"I informed the Governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign," she said in a short statement posted by The Oregonian earlier this week. "Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon."
Brown cut short a trip to Washington, D.C., to return to Oregon in light of the scandal. She said she briefly met with the governor upon her return in a meeting she described as having a strange feeling.
"I asked him what he wanted to talk about," she added. "The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition."
If she is indeed sworn in, Brown would be Oregon's second female governor, as well as the first out bisexual governor in the United States (former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey resigned three months after coming out as gay). According to The Oregonian, Brown had been considered a contender for the 2018 gubernatorial race. Her political career started in 1991, when she was appointed to a vacant state state House seat, and she was a lobbyist for the Women's Rights Coalition.
"Kate Brown will make history as the first openly bisexual American to become governor, and that makes us and the entire LGBT community extremely proud," said Victory Fund Interim Executive Director Denis Dison. "More importantly for Oregonians, she's a dedicated, passionate and impressive public servant who's ready for this challenge. We believe in Kate Brown and her ability to lead Oregon through this difficult moment."
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin agreed that Brown's proposed term would make history.
"Few are better prepared to lead the great state of Oregon than Kate Brown," said Griffin in a statement Friday afternoon. "She's a known commodity to Oregonians with a distinguished record of service of over two decades," Griffin said in a statement. "And while she'll make history as the nation's first sitting LGBT governor, the more important truth is that she's supremely capable of leading the state to better days ahead."