Amid rising scrutiny, governor says fiancee won't have role in administration
PORTLAND (AP) — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said Friday his fiancée will have no role in his administration for the rest of his fourth term after questions were raised about her consulting work.
Visibly nervous as he addressed reporters with a shaky voice, Kitzhaber said Cylvia Hayes would continue her consulting business but would not work for organizations that "have anything to do with the state of Oregon."
The Democratic governor has been on the defensive about Hays' work since newspapers first raised questions in October surrounding her consulting for organizations that want to influence the state.
"These issues have become such a distraction that I want to make it very, very clear that she will have no policy role and no political role in the administration during the remaining four years of my term," Kitzhaber said at a news conference at a state office building in Portland.
Hayes played an active role in Kitzhaber's third term, attending meetings, communicating with state officials and helping him push for environmental and clean energy policies. At the same time, she did consulting work for several organizations involved in similar policies.
He previously said her role would be re-evaluated but hadn't ruled out her continuing involvement in his administration.
Kitzhaber was forced to respond to new reports this week in state newspapers that Hayes was paid $118,000 over two years for a fellowship with a green energy group — money that may not have been reported on her taxes.
Kitzhaber said legitimate questions have been raised but he wouldn't address them.
"Cylvia and I file separate returns. I have not reviewed, did not prepare and cannot answer questions concerning her tax returns, and those questions need to be directed specifically to Cylvia," Kitzhaber said.
As Kitzhaber dodged rapid-fire questions from a large contingent of media, Hayes was in Sweden on Friday visiting friends at her own expense, he said. She has been unavailable to comment on the tax issue.
She'll travel later to Berlin for meetings with an organization that promotes using happiness to evaluate the success of economies and public policies. The organization, funded by the German government, is paying for her trip. It also paid for Hayes' 2013 travel with Kitzhaber to study happiness indicators in Bhutan.
Kitzhaber repeatedly deflected questions about whether her work constituted a conflict of interest, saying the Oregon Government Ethics Commission will decide. At one point, he compared himself to Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks running back who spent an entire Super Bowl press conference answering every question with the same response.
Kitzhaber insists that he and Hayes worked hard to draw a clear separation between her public and private duties and to properly declare conflicts where they existed.
"That was our intent, and the ethics commission will make a determination as to whether or not we were successful," Kitzhaber said.
Asked whether he's been blinded by love, he said he does not believe he is. He said he still plans to marry Hayes, to whom he proposed last summer, and has no intention of resigning.
"I'm not going to consider resigning, of course not," Kitzhaber said. "I was elected by the people of this state to do a job and I'm going to do it."
Hayes has been under intense scrutiny over her business and embarrassing revelations of her past personal life.
Last fall, following a newspaper report, she acknowledged that in the 1990s she illegally married an Ethiopian immigrant so he could seek residency in the United States, and that she had never told Kitzhaber about the sham marriage that ended with the filing of divorce papers in 2001.
The controversy comes as Kitzhaber gears up for the five-month legislative session during which he's pushing an ambitious agenda on education and climate change, a priority for Hayes.
— Associated Press