Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber may have a fiancee with a sham marriage and pot-farming ambitions as well as a pending criminal investigation against him—but he also has the governor’s mansion and no immediate plans to leave.
Just months into his fourth term, Kitzhaber is clinging on to political life as questions swirl around him and his live-in fiancée, state ‘first lady’ Cylvia Hayes.
Hayes has been at the center of the scandal, which has involved a sham marriage, an alleged pot farm, and ethical questions involving her influence in the governor’s office.
In October, Oregon alternative newspaper Willamette Week published a story outlining a possible conflict of interest between Hayes’ work in the governor’s office and her other paid work as a policy consultant.
And then the stories about Oregon’s first lady started to get weird.
It turns out, Hayes entered into a sham marriage with a Nigerian immigrant in 1996, and was paid $5,000 for the ruse. She apologized for the scam, but only after the Willamette Week exposed the story.
Though marriage fraud is a felony, carrying with it a penalty of up to five years in prison, but The Daily Beast reported that it was unlikely that the government could prosecute her because the statute of limitations had already passed.
Just after this report, The Oregonian, a leading state newspaper,dropped another bombshell: Hayes planned to farm marijuana on a 60 acre farm in rural Washington.
Hayes acknowledged that she “planned” to use the area for a pot farm, but never went through with it. A retired real estate broker flagged the story, telling the newspaper that he found marijuana trimmings on the farm property after it was foreclosed.
The scandal Kitzhaber and Hayes now face is less lurid, but far more serious.
The governor and his fiancée are now under criminal investigation by the state’s attorney general. The longest-serving governor in Oregon history has now become the first to openly come under investigation for criminal wrongdoing, according to the Statesman Journal.
“As a public official, records show, Hayes has pushed for economic and energy policies while accepting payments from private advocacy groups seeking to influence those same policies,” the Willamette Week reported in October.
Though Kitzhaber was reelected in November, beating his Republican opponent by a broad margin, the scandal intensified when the press learned of a six-figure payday Hayes received from Kitzhaber associates, and of Hayes using the governor’s staff for personal errands.
The Oregonian called on the governor to resign earlier this month, telling the state’s chief executive that “if he wants to serve his constituents he should resign.”
State press reported that the governor was on the very verge of announcing his resignation earlier this week, but decided to step back from the precipice.
Secretary of State Kate Brown cut short her attendance at a conference in Washington, D.C. to hurry back to Portland, the Associated Press reported, further intensifying rumors that a resignation was imminent just a month into Kitzhaber’s final term as governor.
For now, as the criminal investigation continues, the governor insists that he has no plans to step down from his position.
“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.”