The Curious Saga of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes

Members of both parties are now calling for the governor to resign.
Photographer: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns

With every passing day, Oregon's political soap opera seems to grow more bizarre.

Governor John Kitzhaber continues to resist calls from members of his own party, as well as from the state's leading newspaper, to resign over corruption allegations involving the governor's fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. 

A surreal and fluid timeline of the alleged scandal crescendoed on Wednesday, after Kitzhaber summoned Kate Brown, Oregon's Secretary of State and the person in line to succeed the governor should he resign, back from a conference in Washington DC. As word spread that Kitzhaber had requested that Brown return to Salem, the speculation in the state capitol was that his resignation was imminent. Then came a further perplexing statement from Brown. 

"I got on a plane yesterday morning and arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon. I was escorted directly into a meeting with the Governor. It was a brief meeting. He asked me why I came back early from Washington, DC, which I found strange. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The Governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition," Brown said. 

The statement was just the latest twist in the story, as many observers noted. 

 

Keeping up with this drama has proven a challenge in and of itself. Here's a brief recap on where things stand at the moment. 

Who is John Kitzhaber?

A former emergency room doctor, Kitzhaber was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1978. After one term, he went on to win a seat in the Oregon Senate, where he served three terms. Kitzhaber was elected Oregon's 37th governor in 1994, and was re-elected four years later. In 2010, Kitzhaber, now 67, was elected to a third term, and in 2014 made history by becoming the first person to be elected to four terms as the state's governor. Politically, Kitzhaber is perhaps best known for his stance against capital punishment—in 2011 he declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Oregon—and for presiding over the disastrous roll-out of the state's healthcare exchange website. 

Who is Cylvia Hayes?

Twenty years Kitzhaber's junior, Hayes became romantically involved with the governor in 2002, when she unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the state House of Representatives. She became Oregon's First Lady when Kitzhaber was again sworn into office in 2010.   Hayes is also the founder and chief executive officer of 3EStrategies, a clean energy consulting firm, but by 2014, her less-than-reputable past seemed to catch up with her. 

During the 2014 election, it came to light that Hayes accepted $5,000 to marry an Ethiopian immigrant in order to grant him legal status in the United States. Hayes had never told Kitzhaber about the relationship, she said during a teary news conference. 

 

Four months after marrying the Ethiopian man Hayes said she was involved in a scheme to purchase a Washington state property with the intent of turning it into an illegal marijuana grow house. "I am not proud of that brief period of time—I was involved in an abusive relationship with a dangerous man. We lived together for several  months on the property in Okanogan that was intended to be the site of a marijuana grow operation that never materialized," Hayes said in a statement. 

Why are Kitzhaber and Hayes under investigation? 

At the heart of the investigations into the governor and his fiancée, are the allegations that Hayes "used her role as a clean-energy policy adviser in his office for personal gain, obtaining business as an environmental consultant," as Bloomberg's Alison Vekshin reported. Following an initial investigation by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, the F.B.I. has begun its inquiry into whether, in 2013, Hayes signed private consulting contracts with groups seeking to influence Kitzhaber's office, and whether those deals resulted in political donations and special treatment. On Monday, Kitzhaber sent a letter to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum requesting a "full and independent factual review" of the allegations, and promised to cooperate fully. In response, Rosenblum responded with a letter informing the governor that her office had "already opened an investigation into this matter."

Hayes is also being investigated over her travel expenses, and that she failed to disclose income to the I.R.S., the Oregonian reported. 

In January, as the scandal continued to unfold, Kitzhaber told reporters that his fiancee would no longer have an official role in his administration. 

"She's an independent woman," Kitzhaber said. "She doesn't work for the state of Oregon. ... If Cylvia Hayes wants to talk to the press, she will get in touch with you."

Will Kitzhaber resign? 

Shortly after word of his meeting with Brown went public, the governor appeared to change his mind about stepping down. 

"Let me be as clear as I was last week, that I have no intention of resigning as Governor of the state of Oregon," Kitzhaber said in a statement. "I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state and I intend to continue to do so."

On Wednesday night, Kitzhaber further asserted that he wasn't resigning. 

 

 

That statement aside, Kitzhaber continued meeting with top state Democrats, and left them with a very different impression. 

"He led me to believe he was going to resign. He wanted to do it over a transition period with the secretary of state," Senate President Peter Courtney told the Oregonian on Thursday. "I supported that. I even had a statement prepared."

 

 —Alison Vekshin contributed to this story. 

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE