Gov. Tina Kotek’s office says neither the governor nor her staff has had any communication with the principals of embattled cannabis dispensary chain La Mota since she became governor.
Kotek’s relationship to the couple, Aaron Mitchell and Rosa Cazares, who were also prominent donors to the governor’s campaign, has come under scrutiny since Secretary of State Shemia Fagan resigned earlier this month after WW reported on a private consulting contract she took with the embattled couple.
“No members of the governor’s transition team or staff had any conversations with Rosa Cazares or Aaron Mitchell,” says spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard. “The governor exchanged pleasantries with a lot of well-wishers after the swearing-in, including Rosa Cazares. The governor also referred her to campaign staff after Rosa asked about the details of the inauguration event.”
Cazares and Mitchell, who run more than 30 dispensaries across the state under their chain, La Mota, became prominent political donors to leading Democratic Party candidates over the past three years, even as the pair accrued millions in state and federal tax liens and faced more than two dozen lawsuits. The couple and a political action committee run by Cazares gave over $65,000 to Kotek and $45,000 to Fagan in recent years, while also hosting fundraisers for them as well as other top Democrats.
That relationship would end Fagan’s career. Earlier this month, less than a week after Fagan admitted she was working as a private consultant for the couple, Fagan resigned. The scandal torched a once-promising political career.
Kotek immediately attempted to put distance between herself and Fagan’s scandal. She pledged to donate $75,000 to the Oregon Food Bank—a little more than what Cazares and Mitchell gave to her campaign. Kotek said at a weekend press conference after WW reported on the contract that she was “dismayed” by Fagan’s judgment, and added that she had learned the details of the contract alongside other Oregonians as stories flooded the news.
“I’m certainly very dismayed about what’s been going on with the secretary of state and her relationship with her outside work,” Kotek said April 29. “I did speak with her yesterday. I let her know that I was concerned by the news reports….The press has brought the issue in front of readers but we want to make sure we understand all the facts.”
Yet just this past weekend, The Oregonian reported that Kotek knew about Fagan’s contract a week prior to WW’s April 27 story breaking the news.
And while no reporter asked when exactly she learned about Fagan’s contract during the first press conference Kotek held after the news broke, questions posed by reporters gave the governor a clear opportunity to say she had learned about Fagan’s contract a week before. Kotek never mentioned that.
That Kotek wasn’t transparent about her knowledge of the contract raises questions why she didn’t press Fagan for details about the contract when she first learned about it—and why the governor didn’t express her dismay to Fagan a week earlier.
Shepard also says Cazares played no part in Kotek’s decision to fire Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commissioner director Steve Marks earlier this year. (Cazares, by her own telling in an interview with state officials, had a sour relationship with Marks, and they were not on speaking terms by early 2022. That’s raised questions whether Cazares played any role in Kotek’s decision to fire him.)