PORTLAND, Ore. — Making her first official public appearance since Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his resignation amid an ethics scandal, Oregon governor-to-be Kate Brown was swarmed by media and well-wishers as she entered the Oregon Historical Society at an event marking the state's 156th birthday.
Brown avoided any mention of her new job or the criminal investigation into the man she is set to replace. Instead, she vowed protect the state's beautiful landscape and people.
"Our task, our challenge is to make sure we keep Oregon the very special place that it is and I look forward to working with you to make sure that happens," she said Saturday. "So happy birthday, Oregon."
The speakers attending the celebration kept their focus on the birthday party and not the stunning events that unfolded on Friday, first with Kitzhaber's emotional declaration that he will step down on Wednesday followed by news of a federal subpoena served on the state Department of Administrative Services. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland demanded a laundry list of records, emails, travel logs and other documents related to Kitzhaber and his fiancée Cylvia Hayes.
It said the material must be brought to a federal grand jury hearing on March 10.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, whose agency is investigating the governor alongside federal prosecutors, told The Associated Press that she came to Saturday's event to help celebrate Oregon's birthday but said, "this is obviously a bittersweet day.
"The juxtaposition does not go unnoticed."
When Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, introduced Brown, he said: "Kate, our thoughts are with you. Our prayers are with you."
Afterward, he said the state was in the midst of an event it had not seen in its 156-year history. Four governors have resigned before — three to take other jobs and one because of illness — but no governor has ever left office "under a cloud or under duress."
Under Oregon's constitution, Secretary of State Brown will be sworn in as governor after Kitzhaber's resignation goes into effect. She will appoint her replacement but has not named anyone yet.
Kitzhaber did not attend the birthday celebration and has not appeared in public since he faced growing pressure to leave office. Former Govs. Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski attended Saturday's event.
Roberts was asked if she had anything to say to Kitzhaber, said responded with a sharp: "no." She said she feared the controversy was distracting state government and hurting the office of the governor, but said Kitzhaber has given a great deal to Oregon.
"He has a very long history in the state and a number of things that he and the state can be very proud of," she said. "With a little passage of time all of those good things will be recalled. I don't have any question about the record that he left for all of his service to Oregon."
Paul Bovarnick, a Portland lawyer who attended the birthday celebration, agreed with that assessment of Kitzhaber's time in office.
"Most people think this is a great tragedy," he said. "Nobody could question his dedication to the state. I feel sick about what happened, but I feel he did the right thing in resigning."
Roberts said while the state is facing a difficult period, the state constitution ensures a seamless process.
"I believe it will go smoothly and Oregonians can take a deep breath and feel good about the state," she said.
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