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After an eight-year hiatus from public life, John Kitzhaber is taking back the helm of a state reeling from joblessness, with a budget deficit that will soon bring steep cuts in services on which residents rely.
He will take the oath of office Monday to begin an unprecedented third term as governor of Oregon.
A former emergency room doctor who once called Oregon "ungovernable" as he finished what most people expected to be his final term in office nearly a decade ago, Kitzhaber has laid out lofty goals to transform the way government thinks and operates.
Before he can get there, however, he'll have to tackle a budget with a $3.5 billion shortfall. And he'll have to do it while working with a Legislature that could be on course for gridlock.
The state House of Representatives will be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with 30 members each. With no tie-breaking provision, no piece of legislation can get to Kitzhaber's desk without support from both parties.
Kitzhaber is continuing dominance of the governor's office by the Democratic Party, which has held the position since the 1986 election.
Lawmakers in the House have worked out a rough framework for sharing power. There will be co-speakers, one from each party, who will share the duties. But much is left to be decided, and the first test of whether the House will be able to function also comes Monday, when the Legislature will convene for the first time. The House will attempt to organize and approve rules to govern the next six months.
There will also be a milestone in the Senate. Lawmakers are expected to elect Democrat Peter Courtney to a fifth straight term as Senate President. Nobody has ever been Senate president longer than four terms -- a record held by several former senators, including Kitzhaber.
Kitzhaber's third gubernatorial election was his closest. He defeated Republican Chris Dudley, a political newcomer and former professional basketball player, 49-48.
He takes office with a potential scandal already brewing. Outgoing Gov. Ted Kulongoski has appointed a retired judge to lead a personnel probe into the actions of four state workers who are accused of steering state money to a company run by Kitzhaber's girlfriend.
A probe by the state Department of Justice found no violations of the law. The latest probe will determine whether they violated employment policies. Kitzhaber has said his girlfriend, Cylvia Hayes, did nothing wrong and is not a target of the investigation.