Shemia Fagan resigns as Oregon secretary of state following cannabis consulting scandal

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will resign next week, she announced Tuesday, a stunning fall from grace for a top Democrat who once looked like a good bet to climb to higher office.

The secretary will step down May 8 in reaction to a mounting scandal over her decision to accept lucrative side work as a cannabis consultant. Her deputy, Cheryl Myers, will step into the position until Gov. Tina Kotek appoints a successor.

Fagan’s announcement followed days of escalating fallout over revelationsfirst reported by Willamette Week, that she’d inked a $10,000-per-month contract with the owners of an Oregon cannabis chain at the same time her office audited state regulations on cannabis businesses. The cannabis entrepreneurs are also high-profile Democratic donors.

Fagan first sought to paint that arrangement as in line with state ethics rules — a position she continues to hold. But with major supporters privately signaling bewilderment at her decision, top Democrats calling the behavior into question and increasing scrutiny over the actual consulting work she’d performed, the secretary canceled the agreement over the weekend.

On Monday, she took questions from reporters after issuing a written apology.

Now she’s stepping down.

“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. They are also the reasons I will be submitting my resignation today.”

Under state law, Kotek will name Fagan’s replacement. It was not immediately clear Tuesday when the governor plans to make that decision.

Fagan’s resignation is the final step in what had been a remarkable change in fortune for the Democratic secretary. A week ago, Fagan was hosting student essayists and photography contest winners in a sleepy, feel-good press event for the release of the latest edition of Oregon’s Blue Book almanac.

Two days later, her political future was in immediate jeopardy following revelations of her contract work. She never recovered — though the reality of her situation was not always clear to Fagan. Political allies said they spent the weekend informing Fagan of just how serious her blunder was.

That appeared clear to Fagan on Monday, during her 30-minute press conference to offer more details about the consulting work. The secretary maintained she had followed state rules, but acknowledged she had broken trust with the public.

“I am not here today to defend my rule-following,” Fagan said at the time. “I’m here today to own that there’s a difference between following all the rules and doing nothing wrong.”

This story will be updated.