Editorial: Governor should focus on Oregon

Published Jan 12, 2013 at 04:00AM

Oregon’s Government Ethics Commission will decide Tuesday whether to accept a draft opinion from the commission’s staff that would allow Gov. John Kitzhaber to accept payment for giving speeches under certain conditions. We hope it just says no.

It’s not unheard of for a governor to be paid for giving a speech, to be sure. Many states allow their top officials to accept fees, but only if the invitation to speak is not based on the official’s public position.

Nor do we doubt that Kitzhaber could up his income substantially from the $93,600 annual salary the governor’s job pays.

He is, after all, something of an expert in the field of health care policy and has had at least a couple of opportunities to put his theories into practice in Oregon. The Oregon Health Plan, as it was first enacted, was very much a product of Kitzhaber’s thinking, as is the state’s current effort to craft its own version of Obamacare with the federal government’s blessing. Like the earlier plan, the current one places heavy emphasis on preventive medicine.

Even if the ethics commission were to give Kitzhaber the green light, he’d face problems, we suspect. Oregon law clearly forbids public officials from profiting from their positions, and Kitzhaber’s expertise is very clearly linked to his public service. It’s difficult to see how the two could be separated adequately.

In the end, however, there’s a bigger problem with Kitzhaber’s request. Oregonians elected him to run this state and to do so in one of the most difficult periods in recent memory, a period that is not over yet. We need him governing Oregon, not touring the United States padding his bank account giving speeches.

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