On Friday, Governor John Kitzhaber became the first Oregon state Governor to resign in disgrace amid the growing scandal involving him and his fiancée Cylvia Hayes.
Facing a state criminal investigation and strings of demand from top state officials for him to step down, Kitzhaber, a Democrat and Oregon’s 36th governor made his decision in a letter to Secretary of State Kate Brown detailing his resignation will take effect at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18 clearing the way for her to assume Oregon’s highest office and become the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.
He abandoned his office amid suspicions that his live-in fiancée, Cylvia Hayes used her relationship with him to land contracts for her green-energy consulting business and pushing the same policies in her public role as first lady.
Kitzhaber, who spent 14 years as an emergency-room doctor, served his first two terms as governor from 1995 to 2003, winning election to a third term in 2010 and a fourth in November of which he has only lasted one month and one day as the allegations began surfacing.
Kitzhaber said in a statement announcing his resignation “I understand that I have become a liability to the very institutions and policies to which I have dedicated my career and, indeed, my entire adult life,” he said denying any wrongdoing.
Recently released emails show Governor John Kitzhaber gave First Lady Cylvia Hayes extraordinary influence over the highest levels of state government, allowing her to promote the agendas of her private consulting client.
The emails, released to WW and other media on Friday by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, are of special importance for a number of reasons:
First, Oregon state law prohibits public officials from using their public position for private benefit, or for the benefit of members of the public official’s household. The emails show that Kitzhaber advocated for policies and decisions that would aid Hayes’ private consulting work for Demos, a New York advocacy group.
Second, the emails show Kitzhaber handed Hayes sweeping power to direct senior state employees and influence state government policies. Without disclosing to those employees she was working for private clients, Hayes then promoted her clients’ agendas in written communication and at meetings.
Third, the emails gave evidence of something that Kitzhaber and Hayes have sought to deny, which is that she herself is a public official and thus subject to Oregon government ethics laws.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said Feb. 9 she had begun a conflict-of-interest probe. “The governor’s decision to resign will not affect our ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of his and Ms. Hayes’ conduct,” Rosenblum said in a news release Friday.
Subpoenas delivered to the Department of Administrative Services Friday request a massive array of documents from Kitzhaber’s administration. Seeking records pertaining to 15 other people besides Kitzhaber and Hayes, including Kitzhaber’s chief of staff, policy advisers, Kitzhaber’s lawyer and secretaries the subpoena was the first acknowledgment of a federal investigation ordering the agency to produce documents for a federal grand jury before March 10. An agency spokesman, Matt Shelby, said it would tender whatever requested records are in its possession.
Different newspaper reports since October have chronicled Hayes’ work for organizations with an interest in Oregon public policy. At the same time, she was paid by advocacy groups and played an active role in Kitzhaber’s administration, a potential conflict of interest.
It was only in August that Kitzhaber, 67, proposed to Hayes, 47, with an eco-friendly ring on the banks of the Rogue River. An announcement through a spokeswoman said the couple “could not be happier or more excited.” In the months since, their engagement has been disrupted by the ethics commission review, two recall campaigns, a criminal investigation, a possible FBI inquiry and a series of personal embarrassments.
Putting Hayes in the spotlight led her to reveal that she accepted about $5,000 to illegally marry a man seeking immigration benefits in the 1997. Later, she admitted she bought a remote property with the intent to grow marijuana. Kitzhaber said Hayes would no longer have a policy role in his administration, adding that their engagement was still on.
“I’m in love,” Kitzhaber said. “I do not believe that I’ve been blinded. Eyes wide open.”
The greatest opportunity for transparency is a state-level investigation. Kitzhaber, however, has refused to appoint a special prosecutor. And Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has so far ignored a mandate in state law that says she “shall” investigate public corruption, although her most recent comments suggest she may be moving in that direction.