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It was nice of Kate to show John the door, don't ya know

Our new governor, just a week on the job, has already faced a stream of questions, but so far has failed to answer the most important one: Can she make hotdish?

Kate Brown, you see, claims she grew up in Minnesota. But as someone who spent five summers there and has a daughter currently studying in St. Paul, I know a thing or two about the land of loons and skeeters — and I’m starting to wonder about Gov. Brown’s resume. Because she sure isn’t acting like a Minnesotan.

As we all now know, Brown was called back from a big Secretaries of State shindig in Washington, D.C., by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber, who was planning to resign as revelations of questionable conduct by him and first lady Cylvia Hayes seemed to surface hourly.

After landing at PDX, the secretary of state — first in Oregon’s gubernatorial succession line — was ushered into a meeting with the governor, who apparently decided to dig in his boot heels and hold on to the reins of power a bit longer.

Now a true Minnesotan, finding herself in this awkward position, would have responded with an apology.

“Oh-fer-geez, John, I understand. You betcha,” she’d say. “You and Cylvia have been under some terrible strain, don’t ya know, and I’m sorry to be takin’ up your time. Now, you just call if deres anything I can do for daboat-a-yuz.”

But instead of offering to run some hotdish over to Mahonia Hall, Brown instead served up a scorching public statement, explaining that the governor greeted her by asking her why she had left D.C. (a remark she “found strange”) and then declared he wasn’t resigning before initiating “a discussion about transition.”

Many observers, including some of my colleagues in the Pamplin Media Group, have criticized Brown, labeling her a “traitor” who should have showed some deference to the incumbent and kept the curious details of the meeting secret, seeing as how she stood to benefit from his departure. That would have been very Minnesotan, but not very smart.

For as we now know, John Kitzhaber cannot be trusted to accurately report the facts. Given that inconvenient truth, Brown had to give her version of the events before Kitzhaber gave his.

So she threw him under the canoe and, for good measure, smacked his head with a paddle, characterizing the governor’s actions as “bizarre.”

It was a gutsy decision, but not the first time Brown refused to jump ship for a fellow Democrat who felt entitled to hold onto power after a change of heart. In fact, it’s how she got her start in electoral politics.

In 1991, state Rep. Judy Bauman was in line for a government job and gave up her seat representing southeast Portland. Brown, a young lawyer, was tapped to finish the term. Bauman, however, changed her mind, and decided to run for her old seat.

A lot of Democrats figured Brown should step aside and let Bauman return to the statehouse. Brown, however, had other ideas — and her decision to stay in the May 1992 primary sparked one of the most spirited internal debates I had the pleasure to be part of during my tenure at Willamette Week. In the end, Brown got WW’s nod over Bauman and went on to win by just seven votes, setting her on a path that last week led her back to the House chambers to take the oath of office as Oregon’s 38th governor.

In her remarks, she was kinder to the man she replaced than he was to her. In his resignation letter, Kitzhaber said that what troubled him most was not the mounting evidence of misconduct, but “that so many of my former allies in common cause have been willing to simply accept this judgment at its face value.”

It was an odd lament from a guy who, as Senate President, strolled into the private office of then-Gov. Barbara Roberts in the fall of 1993, not to offer support as she dealt with her husband’s terminal cancer, but to inform his fellow Democrat that he would be running against her in the May primary. In her memoir, Roberts recalled the moment: “I asked him to sit down so we could have a conversation about his decision. He just kept walking. I spoke to him several more times, asking him for the courtesy of a conversation. He kept walking, never responding, never turning ... he simply walked away.”

Kitzhaber is walking away again — this time, almost certainly, for good. And if Brown nudged him through the door, well, as they say back in her home state, “By golly, it was abowt time.”

John Schrag is publisher of the News-Times and the Hillsboro Tribune.

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