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Kitzhaber says he'll be back

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - John Kitzhaber appeared at a public event for the first time on Sunday since he resigned as governor. He is shown here with Mt. Hood Community College President Debbie Derr and businessman Junki Yoshida. Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber says that he plans to get involved in public issues again after he is absolved of any ethical or legal wrongdoing.

Speaking to the Gresham Outlook about his future on Sunday, Kitzhaber said, “obviously I need to get my name cleared.” Then, he said he plans to “reengage in the things I have always been passionate about, education, health care,” but as a private citizen.

“I’ve got runway ahead and gas in the tank,” he said.

Kitzhaber spoke to The Outlook at the Mt. Hood Community College gymnasium where he came to a ceremony honoring businessman Junki Yoshida and his wife Linda, who are longtime friends and supporters.

Kitzhaber was jovial and relaxed, accepting hugs from apparent friends and shaking hands with well-wishers. He was dressed in a camel blazer and his trademark jeans and cowboy boots.

Hundreds of people were in the gym, which was formally renamed the Yoshida Event Center during the morning ceremony. Most were there for a karate tournament held after the renaming.

Kitzhaber slipped into the gym alone after the ceremony started, later explaining, “I got lost on the campus, but I wanted to honor my friends Junki and Linda.” He posed for pictures with Junki and MHCC President Debbie Derr at a plaque displaying the new name of the gym afterward.

The gym was renamed after Junki and Linda, who donated $1 million to the MHCC Foundation in September — the largest gift ever to the college. After the ceremony, the inaugural event also happened to bear their name — the 29th annual Yoshida Cup karate tournament.

Hundreds of participants and spectators, including a large contingent from Japan, showed up for the karate tournament early Sunday morning, but the first order of business was the name change. Among those watching were the Yoshidas’ three daughters and most members of the Troutdale City Council. (The college is partially located in Troutdale.)

At the ceremony, Derr and Junki Yoshida noted that the Yoshidas have a fondness for community colleges because they got their start at Highline Community College in Washington state.

Junki, CEO of Yoshida Food International, contributed $35,000 to Kitzhaber’s 2014 reelection campaign.

The ceremony was the first public appearance for Kitzhaber since he resigned under a cloud of controversy and charges of influence peddling relating to the activities of his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. Kitzhaber and Hayes are being investigated by the Oregon U.S. Attorney’s Office. State criminal and ethics investigations have been suspended until the federal investigation is completed.

If Kitzhaber is feeling any pressure from the investigation, he didn’t show it. Gone was his haggard look at the Jan. 30 press conference where he fumbled while trying to answer questions about Hayes’ consulting contracts. Instead, Kitzhaber looked chipper and laughed and smiled while talking to people.

The federal investigation took an odd turn last week when it was reported that Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall has been placed on leave because of an investigation into her relationship with a subordinate. She is reportedly suspected of stalking Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kevin after he tried to end their relationship. Her position is being filled by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Billy Williams.

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