Mired in scandal, the longtime Democrat governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, finally stepped down from office last week. Plenty of Democrat politicians become embroiled in scandals yet continue serving in office for many years, so what made this different? Kitzhaber took on a powerful government union and failed to implement an Obamacare exchange, the kiss of death for a Democrat. Powerful members of his own party failed to stand up for him in the end, as well as the state’s formerly adulatory left-wing newspaper, The Oregonian, which called for his resignation.
The 67-year-old Kitzhaber’s problems originated with his much younger fiancee, environmental consultant Cylvia Hayes, age 47. Armed with a degree in “sustainability” from one of the most radical colleges in the nation, Washington’s Evergreen State College, Hayes obtained several lucrative consulting positions thanks to her relationship with Kitzhaber. She then proceeded to intermingle her private consulting work with the state’s official business, holding herself out as part of the administration to exert influence in her personal capacity. Kitzhaber gave her broad authority to direct senior administration officials, which she did without disclosing who her private clients were.
Bizarrely, she gave speeches and performed services as “Oregon’s first lady,” even though she has never married Kitzhaber. The Oregon Business Council paid for her to have a spokesperson, which cost $35,000 in 2013. At the same time, Kitzhaber promoted the council’s business plan, the Oregon Business Plan. Hayes’s efforts resulted in exhaustively pushing alternative fuels, sustainability, and padding her own pocket.
In 2009, her consulting firm bid for a contract with the Oregon Department of Energy and came in dead last. Yet a $60,000 contract was still awarded to the firm. The Oregon Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation and found that state officials had steered the contract.
Kitzhaber named Hayes to a seven-member team tasked with writing his 10-year energy plan. Contracts she received no doubt due to her prestigious position of influence included $118,000 from the Clean Economy Development Center and $25,000 from Rural Development Initiatives for a mere five months of work. In January, it came out that she had failed to report the $118,000 in income she’d received over two years from CEDC on her taxes. She brazenly used government staff to book personal trips, calendar private appointments, and she met clients for private business in Mahonia Hall.
At the same time she was being paid by the New York consulting firm Demos, she was helping the state develop a controversial alternative economic measure, the Genuine Progress Indicator. The GPI includes factors like carbon imprint and social justice when measuring economic growth, or GDP. Hayes scheduled meetings of the state’s top officials, signing off as Oregon’s first lady, although she only became engaged to Kitzhaber last summer. Kitzhaber told a state agency director “we need to find a way” to hire a man who worked with Hayes’ advocacy group, Sean McGuire. Sure enough, McGuire was hired for $65,000 to help institute GPI in Oregon. Demos is a left-wing group that is a who’s who on the left. Board members include Van Jones and a Director from the National Council of La Raza.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Willamette Weekly has a comprehensive list of the quid pro quos between Hayes and her private clients, which include Waste to Energy Group, Redmond Municipal Airport, HDR Inc., a global warming project from Resource Media, and Energy Foundation.
ORS Chapter 244, the state’s government ethics law, “prohibits public officials from engaging in conflicts of interest, from using their positions for private gain and from using public resources for personal benefit.”
Hayes has an equally checkered past. She has admitted she married an Ethiopian immigrant in 1997 so he could stay in the U.S., in exchange for $5,000. That same year, she bought land with her current boyfriend in order to start a marijuana farm.
Incredibly, Hayes blames her ethical lapses on sexism. In a speech to Portland State University last April, she claimed the scrutiny of her actions was due to men, saying, “I was getting some pushback from the guys.”
Hayes would have kept cashing in on her corporate cronyism if Kitzhaber hadn’t taken a fatal lurch to the right. In late 2013, he convinced Democrats and Republicans to support a "grand bargain," bravely taking on the public employee unions, which are considered the base of the Democrat Party in Oregon and one of Kitzhaber’s largest campaign contributors. His successful plan cut pension benefits for 329,887 public employees by nearly $5 billion and transferred $500 million in new tax breaks to business.
The Oregon Outpost predicted that taking on the powerful unions might be the end of Kitzhaber, considering how monolithically Democratic the state is. The newspaper opined, “Christian Gaston at oregonlive.com points out that ‘Public employee unions, environmentalists and tax activists were incensed…’ That is quite the trinity of voters to have angry at you and two of those are pillars of Demcratic support in Oregon and especially Portland. Who’s left to offend? Pet owners and bicyclists? They are probably a member of one of those groups as well.”
Further diminishing Kitzhaber’s credibility with the left, the web-based insurance exchange he set up under Obamacare, Cover Oregon, turned out to be a disaster by early 2014, and was pulled before it even launched, wasting $240 million in federal money.
About the same time Kitzhaber was failing the left, the formerly fawning newspapers turned on him and began submitting public records requests for emails from him, Hayes and senior administration officials. Under cover of the incriminating emails exposing Hayes, it was easy to force Kitzhaber out. After all, why should one of the most left-wing states in the country settle for a moderate Democrat? The conservative Oregon Catalyst perhaps said it best, “Why credit Kitzhaber for being ‘bipartisan’ in a one-party state?”