Top Oregon Democrats, state treasurer call on governor to resign over corruption probe
Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) [Facebook]

Top Oregon Democrats and the state treasurer on Thursday called on Governor John Kitzhaber to resign in response to conflict-of-interest allegations involving his fiancee, and Oregon's secretary of state said she is ready to step into the job.

Kitzhaber, a Democrat, faces mounting pressure to resign amid a criminal corruption probe launched last week by the state attorney general over a possible conflict of interest between the role of his fiancee as an unpaid adviser and her consulting contracts.

"Oregon deserves a governor who is fully focused on the duties of state," Treasurer Ted Wheeler said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the current situation has become untenable, and I cannot imagine any scenario by which things improve."

House of Representatives Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, both Democrats, met with Kitzhaber on Thursday and urged him to resign. A Courtney spokesman said the governor, in response, was "upset" and "defiant."

Two petition campaigns to recall Kitzhaber have been organized in recent weeks, and the Oregonian, the state's biggest newspaper, called last week for his resignation.

Kitzhaber, who was elected to an unprecedented fourth term in November, said Wednesday that he has no intention of resigning.

Secretary of State Kate Brown, next in the line of succession to become governor should he resign, said Thursday that she is ready to assume the role even though Kitzhaber told her he has no plans to step down.

Brown said in a statement that Kitzhaber summoned her back to Oregon two days early from a conference in Washington, D.C., for a private meeting on Wednesday.

"It was a brief meeting," she said. "The governor told me he was not resigning, after which he began a discussion about transition."

"This is clearly a bizarre and unprecedented situation," she added. "I informed the governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign."

Brown's return to Oregon and Kitzhaber's cancellation of a weekend event had fueled media speculation about the governor's political future.

Also on Thursday, the Willamette Week reported that one day before the state's attorney general opened its investigation, the governor had ordered staff to remove all of his personal emails from state servers.

The governor's office told Reuters late Thursday that there was no blanket deletion and that his staff was sorting through the emails to determine which are subject to open records laws.

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Mohammad Zargham, Eric Beech and Ken Wills)