Embattled Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber faced stiff pressure from top-ranking fellow Democrats to resign on Thursday, shortly after the state's No. 2 official issued a statement describing the governor's recent behavior as "strange" and contradictory.
The latest calls to resign -- in the wake of influence-peddling allegations involving his fiancee Cylvia Hayes, a green-energy consultant -- came from the upper echelons of Oregon's government. Senate President Peter Courtney told reporters Thursday afternoon that he and House Speaker Tina Kotek have asked for Kitzhaber to step down.
"I finally said, `This has got to stop,"' Courtney said after he and Kotek met with the governor. "I don't know what else to do right now. It seems to be escalating. It seems to be getting worse and worse."
His remarks came after Secretary of State Kate Brown, who would be in line to succeed Kitzhaber should he step down, issued a statement calling this a "bizarre and unprecedented situation."
Brown had been summoned back to Oregon by the governor on Wednesday while she was attending a conference in Washington. Her abrupt return to Oregon fueled speculation that the governor was planning to resign.
Sources told The Associated Press that, in fact, he had decided to step down amid the ethics controversy involving his fiancée but changed his mind while Brown was en route back to Oregon.
In her statement, Brown described how Kitzhaber gave her conflicting messages.
She said she first heard from the governor late Tuesday afternoon. "He asked me to come back to Oregon as soon as possible to speak with him in person and alone," Brown said.
But when she arrived for the meeting with the governor on Wednesday, Brown said, "He asked me why I came back early from Washington, D.C., which I found strange."
According to Brown, he also sent conflicting signals about his future plans when she asked what he wanted to talk about.
"The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition," she said, adding that she told the governor she would be ready "should he resign."
Pressure to do so grew significantly on Thursday. The state treasurer also joined in the call for Kitzhaber to step down. "Unfortunately, the current situation has become untenable, and I cannot imagine any scenario by which things improve," said Treasurer Ted Wheeler, another Democrat. "Oregon deserves a governor who is fully focused on the duties of state."
Until Thursday's statement, Brown also had avoided weighing in on the controversy surrounding Kitzhaber. Her move further isolates him from other senior Democrats, none of whom have come to his aid.
It's not clear why Kitzhaber, a four-term governor who handily won re-election in November, decided he would stay put despite the mounting criticism. He issued a vague statement on Wednesday explaining he was not resigning.
"I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state, and I intend to continue to do so," Kitzhaber said, repeating a refrain he's uttered at least twice in the past two weeks.
Newspaper editorial boards and Republicans have called on him to leave office over allegations involving his fiancee, who has been under increasing scrutiny since October, when a series of reports chronicled her work for organizations with an interest in Oregon public policy. That work came about when she was serving as an unpaid adviser in the governor's office.
Amid the attention, Hayes revealed that she accepted about $5,000 to illegally marry an immigrant seeking immigration benefits in the 1990s. Later, she acknowledged purchasing a remote property with the intent to illegally grow marijuana.
Kitzhaber has denied any wrongdoing, saying he and Hayes took steps to avoid conflicts of interest. Though questions about Hayes have swirled for months, the pressure on Kitzhaber intensified in recent weeks after newspapers raised questions about whether Hayes reported all her income to on her tax returns.
In early February, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she was launching a criminal investigation.
A fiercely private person, Kitzhaber has been forced to answer embarrassing and personal questions about his relationship. In response to questions at a news conference last month, Kitzhaber told reporters that he's in love with Hayes, but he's not blinded by it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.