Meet the Oregon Journalist Who Keeps Taking Down Governors
The resignation of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber on Friday is another pelt on the wall for Nigel Jaquiss, a Goldman Sachs oil trader turned muck-raking journalist.
Jaquiss, 52, works at Willamette Week, the free alternative weekly in Portland where he reported on allegations of Gov. John Kitzhaber's influence peddling. From that modest perch, Jaquiss also won a Pulitzer Prize, in 2005, for exposing long-hidden sexual assault by former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, the godfather of Oregon politics. And in 2009, Jaquiss's reporting revealed an improper sexual relationship between then-Portland Mayor Sam Adams and a legislative intern, which Adams initially denied.
"It's pretty astonishing," Jaquiss wrote in an e-mail. "Goldschmidt was no longer in office. Adams stayed in office. So from that perspective, this story had more impact than the other two."
Jaquiss leveled his sites on Kitzhaber, 67, late last year, and in October reported that the governor’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, 47, used taxpayer money to advance her green-energy consulting business. Jaquiss has followed the story with a bundle of scoops, feeding the flames that finally consumed Kitzhaber. In Kitzhaber's resignation statement, he acknowledged an "escalating media frenzy" stemming from the Hayes allegations. Kate Brown, Oregon's Secretary of State, will succeed Kitzhaber.
"I think Nigel is among the best investigative journalists in the country," says Tim Gleason, the former dean and a professor of journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. "What distinguishes Nigel is his ability to focus. He never loses sight of where he's going. He just digs and digs and digs."
Jaquiss is a lanky, wonky journalist with none of the pretension of a Goldman trader or governor-slayer. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1984, he traded oil derivatives for 11 years in New York and Singapore for Cargill, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman.
Then he abruptly switched careers and went to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, graduating in 1997. He joined Willamette Week in 1998. He lives in Portland with his wife and three kids, and over lunch often shakes his head at the tawdry affairs in Oregon politics. He regularly beats the Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, on political scoops.
Jaquiss earned his Pulitzer for breaking a story in May 2004 that revealed a long-rumored relationship in the 1970s between Goldschmidt and his family’s baby sitter, who was 14 at the time. The statute of limitations had expired so Goldschmidt—who was once secretary of transportation for Jimmy Carter—wasn't prosecuted. But Goldschmidt, who had been leading a bid by buyout firm TPG for Portland General Electric and also sitting on the State Board of Higher Education, resigned all his posts. He's since vanished from Oregon politics.
Gleason also credits Jaquiss's managing editor, Brent Walth, for the publication's focus on public affairs. "Willamette Week has an interesting niche in this state," says Gleason. "Others have pulled back more than a little from investigative journalism, but Willamette Week has remained a constant."
Before Jaquiss took aim at Kitzhaber directly, he helped kill one of the governor’s pet projects: the Columbia River Crossing, a new bridge across the Columbia River north of Portland. Jaquiss’s reporting showed that estimates for traffic over the bridge were too high and wouldn’t support the mammoth project unless proposed tolls on the span increased.
You won't hear much about the Columbia River Crossing or Goldschmidt around Oregon these days. And now that Jaquiss is hanging Kitzhaber's pelt, you probably won't be hearing much from the former governor, either.
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