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The governor's office can shine again

As Oregon Gov. Kate Brown steps into office this week, the 2015 legislative session is off and running, and the public’s collective head is still spinning from the swiftness of former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s downfall.

Given the amount of work to be done, Brown has no time for a honeymoon with legislators or voters. But she also shouldn’t dive into her new role without reflecting on lessons to be learned from the departure of her immediate predecessor.

Kitzhaber’s troubles may or may not involve criminal actions. That will be determined by federal and state investigations already under way. But whether laws were broken or not, he made mistakes any governor would do well to avoid.

The shortcomings in Kitzhaber’s third term included his lack of

attention to detail and his willingness to trust people who didn’t necessarily deserve such trust. On the other hand, there didn’t appear to be anyone within the Kitzhaber administration who had the clout needed to tell the boss to get his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, out of state business if she couldn’t separate it from her private financial affairs.

From a personality standpoint, Brown appears much less detached than Kitzhaber, which makes us optimistic she will be fully engaged and attentive to her most significant priorities.

Her appointment of a former aide, Brian Shipley, as her chief of staff is a good first step toward building a team distinct from Kitzhaber’s most recent administration. However, she must make it clear to Shipley and the rest of her aides that loyalty to the governor doesn’t always mean agreeing with everything she has to say.

It’s also important for Brown —

or any elected official — to

acknowledge that citizens have high standards for public service. Being governor is an honor, not a burden. When Kitzhaber made his final public statement last week, he lashed out at the press and his former

allies, saying he wasn’t allowed due process.

From a strictly legal standpoint, Kitzhaber hasn’t been given his day in court. But even if it is determined that no laws were broken, that doesn’t mean Kitzhaber deserved to remain in office.

Public officials — like Caesar’s wife — must be above suspicion. In his parting words last week, Kitzhaber failed to recognize this age-old expectation, choosing instead to cast himself as victim.

This line of defense fails the credibility test, however, because Kitzhaber spent the past few months frustrating every attempt to uncover public records and get at the truth.

Kitzhaber had many accomplishments in his long political career, but his detachment at the end left not just the media, but the public as a whole, in the dark. Gov. Kate Brown now has a chance to throw open the shades and let the light shine fully into the governor’s office once again.

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