The former governor of Oregon John Kitzhaber opposes Measure 110, an initiative on the Oregon ballot to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in favor of providing greater access to treatment. John Kitzhaber’s argument for keeping the status quo in Oregon’s failed approach to Oregon’s addiction crisis demonstrates two incredible blind spots that actually demonstrate the need for Measure 110.
One is the obvious: before his resignation, Kitzhaber presided over state government for 12 years as Governor and even longer as Senate President. He more than almost anyone had the opportunity to reform a system that ruins lives instead of repairing them. The failed leadership of Kitzhaber and many of the few, vocal opponents of Measure 110 are the reason a Yes vote is so important.
His other blind spot is even more distressing: the argument that we keep a racist criminal justice system because among the nearly 9000 people it arrests every year, the occasional person may get “helped” in the process. Who are the people for whom that help might potentially outweigh the damage of a criminal record? People with the means and privilege to afford a good lawyer, or have the ability or connections to navigate the system. This is a dynamic that former Governor Kitzhaber should be intimately aware of, a dynamic that Measure 110 addresses.
Kitzhaber’s son got preferential criminal justice treatment. Most drug users aren’t so lucky.
As you may remember, Kitzhaber’s son was driving while drunk and on Adderol, Xanax, and methorphan . He crashed into a motorhome and sent two people to the hospital – one of whom nearly lost his leg. He was arrested on DUI, reckless driving, criminal mischief, four counts of assault, and two counts of reckless endangerment.
If he’d been Black, or poor, or perhaps someone other than the governor’s son, he would have gotten several felony convictions and a lifelong felony criminal record that stopped him from getting jobs, housing, student loans, and more. A lot of people have had their lives ruined for less.
But what did Logan Kitzhaber get? Seven days days in jail, five years of probation and all the felony counts reduced to misdemeanors. He called the experience a “wake-up call.” He could afford to have a top-flight lawyer and drug treatment.
We have two criminal justice systems in Oregon. One for people like the Kitzhabers, and one for everyone else. Of course John Kitzhaber opposes Measure 110 — his experience with the criminal justice system tells him that the status quo he helped create is acceptable. Apparently, the view from that perch makes it hard to see the wreckage it creates for thousands of people who are criminalized for their addiction, while Oregon starves them of the treatment they need.