Around Oregon

Day after apologizing and dropping side job, Fagan resigns as secretary of state

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will resign next Monday, a little more than a week after news broke of her moonlighting for a troubled cannabis company that played a key role in an audit conducted by her office. 

Fagan’s emailed announcement on Tuesday followed a tearful virtual press conference on Monday during which she apologized for breaking trust with Oregonians and said she couldn’t survive on her $77,000 state salary. She has also ended her $10,000-a-month contract with La Mota, a cannabis company whose co-owner donated $45,000 to her campaign.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission began investigating Fagan’s contract on April 28 in response to a written complaint and has since received a second complaint, Executive Director Ron Bersin said in an email. There’s a 60-day preliminary review process for complaints before the commission decides whether to dismiss or launch a full investigation. 

Gov. Tina Kotek urged the commission to investigate and asked the Department of Justice to analyze the recent Secretary of State audit of the cannabis industry for any influence Fagan had had on that. It indicated that looser regulation would help the industry.

“While I am confident that the ethics investigation will show that I followed the state’s legal and ethical guidelines in trying to make ends meet for my family, it is clear that my actions have become a distraction from the important and critical work of the Secretary of State’s office,” Fagan said in a statement. 

“Protecting our state’s democracy and ensuring faith in our elected leaders – these are the reasons I ran for this office,” she continued. “They are also the reasons I will be submitting my resignation today.” 

Deputy Secretary Cheryl Myers will oversee the agency until Gov. Tina Kotek appoints a new secretary to serve through the 2024 election. The Secretary of State’s Office is in the midst of overseeing the May 16 special districts election, with ballots already in voters’ hands. 

“This is a resilient agency, with strong division leadership and internal systems that can withstand change,” Myers said in a statement. “We are ready to continue the important work of the Secretary of State’s office during this transition.” 

Kotek said in a statement that she learned Fagan would resign on Tuesday morning and that she supported the decision. 

“It is essential that Oregonians have trust in their government,” she said. “I believe this is a first step in restoring that trust.”

The secretary of state is next in line for the governorship because Oregon doesn’t have a lieutenant governor.

House Speaker Dan Rayfield of Corvallis, Senate President Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego, House Majority Leader Julie Fahey of Eugene and Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber of Beaverton, all Democrats, said in a joint statement that Fagan’s decision to resign will allow the state to move on and build trust.

“As elected leaders, we know that our work depends solely on our ability to hold the trust of the people we serve and represent,” they said. “Secretary of State Fagan’s severe lapses of judgment eroded trust with the people of Oregon, including legislators who depend on the work of the Audits Division for vital information on public policy.”

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