The rapid rise and meteoric fall of Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber sounds like a plot from a Netflix television series.
One of the main characters is a live-in girlfriend running a profitable consulting business with contracts from cronies connected to billionaires seeking to buy influence with the governor.
Another plot line is the governor’s throwing away $300 million in state and federal taxpayer dollars in order to protect his political reputation as a "health care reformer." This same governor has to later resign after a different scandal takes down his administration.
This is a great story line and the show could give "Scandal" a run for the ratings. Too bad for the people of Oregon, it is a true story.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber looks on during a news conference, Thursday, March 20, 2014, in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Statesman-Journal, Kobbi R. Blair)
When Obamacare was passed a number of states jumped headfirst into the cesspool of government-run health care. Oregon was intent on proving Obamacare could work. The state was given a quarter of a billion dollars to set up its own health care exchange. Call centers, a web portal and even online outreach were paid for by both state and federal taxpayers.
The centerpiece of the campaign to get people enrolled was an ad campaign that looked straight out of Woodstock. Strumming guitarists and a folksinger crooned about Oregon's snow and its "salty sea air" in an oddball effort to say that ObamaCare was as great as the state itself. Ten million dollars was spent even before the exchange was open.
None of it worked. None of it.
Facing a 2014 re-election campaign, the Kitzhaber administration began to panic as delays hit the opening of the web portal. The self-proclaimed "Princess of Darkness," Patricia McCaig, the governor's Karl Rove, was put in charge of the exchange despite having no expertise in health care or technology.
As the slings and arrows targeted Kitzhaber, McCaig made the political decision to kill the Oregon Exchange. They decided it was best to wash their hands of this political mess and the $300 million that was spent on the program so it wouldn't torpedo Kitzhaber's re-election chances. Meanwhile mounting evidence suggests that the site was functional, just needing more time and testing to work.
Congress is now hot on the scent of corruption.
Earlier in the year, the Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) dispatched a letter to Kitzhaber (who has since resigned in disgrace) asking questions about campaign advisors making health care decisions and the subsequent efforts to destroy emails from state servers in a desperate last-ditch cover-up. The committee demanded all documents and any forms of communications on the issue.
It looks like the Kitzhaber's crew has their hands full with the federal criminal investigation over their environmental cronyism but that should not stop Congress from demanding answers -- and perhaps restitution and further punishment -- from the scheme to hurt taxpayers to protect Kitzhaber's political ambitions. The time has come to rip the cover off this scandal. Ignoring it would be malpractice.
This story line has everything that makes a political thriller interesting – romance, corruption, betrayal and a high profile resignation. Too bad that this tale about Oregon politics is true.
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