By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Top Oregon Democrats and the state treasurer on Thursday called on Governor John Kitzhaber to resign amid fallout over conflict-of-interest allegations involving his fiancée, and Oregon's secretary of state said she is ready to step into the job.
Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is facing mounting pressure to resign amid a criminal corruption probe launched last week by the state attorney general over a possible conflict of interest between his fiancee's consulting contracts and her role in his office.
"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, issued a statement on Wednesday saying he has no intention of resigning.
Also on Thursday, Secretary of State Kate Brown, who is next in the line of succession to become governor should Kitzhaber resign, said she is ready to assume the role even though Kitzhaber told her in a meeting 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. ... 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 weekend plans to plant trees in a Portland suburb had fueled media speculation on Wednesday about the governor's political future.
(Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech)