Oregon's Lady Macbeth
In honor of Valentine’s Day, Oregon’s governor lets his scandal-prone fiancé ruin his political career.
On the surface, Cylvia Hayes looked like the perfect First Lady of Oregon: neat, brown hair; wide, toothy grin; conservative clothing and a warm demeanor. She came from made-for-campaign-literature beginnings and had a cause to which she devoted her life.
But Hayes also had secrets: a past life as the green-card wife of an Ethiopian teenager, plans to use a 60-acre farm in rural Washington to grow marijuana, and a suspicious amount of influence in the gubernatorial administration of her boyfriend, all of which raised questions about a conflict of interest with her own work as a policy consultant.
On Thursday, outrage over Hayes’ multiple scandals reached its conclusion. Her fiancé, Gov. John Kitzhaber, resigned, putting an end to his more than three-decades-long career in Oregon politics, 20 years of which were spent in the governor’s office.
“I am in love,” Kitzhaber said when asked about Hayes’ alleged wrongdoings at a press conference on Jan. 30. “I have no regrets over my personal relationship with Cylvia Hayes. She is a wonderful lady.”
A wonderful lady, but perhaps also a con artist.
Hayes was born on Aug. 10, 1967, in Seattle. She was raised in “a ramshackle home in rural Washington” that previously had been a “hippie commune,” according to a January 2011 Oregonian profile.
Hayes, who did not return phone calls or Facebook messages requesting comment, claims that her father’s drinking problem forced her out on her own by age 16. She then couch-surfed until she finished high school. She says she earned a master’s degree in environmental studies from Evergreen State College, a liberal-arts school in Olympia, Wash., sometime after 1997, when she first arrived in Oregon.
The Oregonian reported that Hayes “was trained by former Vice President Al Gore to lecture on climate change,” but there are no details about what, exactly, that means.
Hayes founded a environmental policy consulting firm, 3EStrategies, first as a nonprofit. In 2009 it became a for-profit company.
There is a touch of Gore in the firm’s content: in a 2007 video, Hayes can be seen wearing a leather trench coat and standing among trees and grass and entreating people “concerned about climate change” to get involved.
“We’re past the point where we can sit back and wait.” With 3EStrategies, she says, “we work directly within the community to create real clean energy products [and] to help build buildings that produce more energy than they consume.”
It is hard to tell if her firm employs anyone besides her. Phone calls to the number listed on the firm’s website go to Hayes’ voicemail, and clicking on the links to Facebook and Twitter direct to Hayes’ personal accounts.
In 2002, Hayes made an unsuccessful bid for the Oregon State House, during which time she met Kitzhaber, who campaigned for her.
She says it wasn’t until over a year later that they embarked on a relationship. Hayes helped Kitzhaber campaign for reelection, and in 2010, she moved into the governor’s mansion: the first live-in girlfriend for a governor in Oregon’s history.
Questions about Hayes were immediately raised.
It seemed curious to observers that Hayes seemed to wield a great deal of power in her boyfriend’s administration. As reported by the Willamette Week, she had her own desk in the governor’s office and was a common presence at senior staff meetings.
“She travels on trade missions to Asia and Europe not just as the governor’s partner, but as an important player conferring with other leaders,” the newspaper reported. And Hayes claimed, in her National Governor’s Association profile, that she was “a policy advisor to Governor John Kitzhaber on the issues of clean energy and economic development.”
All of this was made more complicated by the fact that Hayes’ consulting firm was doing work for the state.
In 2009, 3EStrategies competed for a contract with the Oregon Department of Energy. Her firm, the Willamette Week reported, “came in last in the rankings.”
She got work for the firm anyway. The contract resulted in a criminal investigation by Oregon’s Department of Justice.
Things only got weirder from there.
In October 2014, while Kitzhaber was in the midst of his reelection campaign, the Willamette Week uncovered a curious detail about Hayes’ third failed marriage, which took place in 1997, to an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant. “Public records raise questions about whether the marriage was legitimate or whether it was a way to help the young man with his immigration status.”
The marriage ended after 4 years and 3 months.
What’s more, the teenager paid Hayes $5,000 for her role in the union.
In the wake of the story, Hayes issued an emotional apology: “It was wrong then and it is wrong now, and I am here today to accept the consequences, some of which will be life-changing.”
Worse, still: Governor Kitzhaber had no idea the green-card marriage had ever happened before it was reported by the press.
“The fact that I did not disclose this to him meant that he has learned about this in the most public and unpleasant way,” Hayes cried. “This is my greatest sorrow in this difficult situation.”
(The marriage was not prosecuted because it was past the statute of limitations.)
Then, another bombshell: also in 1997—a big year for Hayes—she joined forces with a man to buy a $245,000 piece of land near the Canadian border in Washington. The purchase required a $15,000 down payment.
“There was somewhat of a leader/follower there, and she was leading and the gentleman was following,” Patrick Siemion, who sold the property to Hayes and the man, told KOIN 6 News. Not long after the purchase, according to Siemion, Hayes and the man stopped making payments on the property, and by 1998 they “gave up their interest” in it, reported KOIN 6 News.
As The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak reported Thursday: “Hayes acknowledged that she ‘planned’ to use the area for a pot farm, but never went through with it.”
None of this, it should go without saying, is very First Ladylike behavior.
As of Thursday, Kitzhaber was not planning on going anywhere. “I have no intention of resigning as Governor of the state of Oregon,” he told the AP. “I was elected to do a job for the people of this great state and I intend to continue to do so.”
But then he slept on it, I guess.
On Friday, as federal prosecutors subpoenaed documents from his administration Kitzhaber announced he would resign.
In a letter, he said: “”It is not in my nature to walk away from a job I have undertaken. It is to stand and fight for the cause. For that reason I apologize to all those people who gave of their faith, time, energy and resources to elect me to a fourth term last year and who have supported me over the past three decades. I promise you that I will continue to pursue our shared goals and our common cause in another venue.”