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Governor rivals spar over fiancee disclosures

Kitzhaber: 'I'm proud of her'; Richardson calls for special prosecutor


Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republican rival Dennis Richardson jousted Friday over two news disclosures about Cylvia Hayes, Oregon’s first lady and Kitzhaber's fiancee.

Kitzhaber says “I am proud of her and I support her.”

Richardson says Kitzhaber’s current term constituted “the single most inept and unethical administration” in state history, and not just for Hayes’ involvement as an adviser, which Richardson alleges has brought her personal gain disallowed under state ethics laws.

Kitzhaber praised Hayes for her news conference the previous day confirming a Willamette Week account about her illegal sham marriage in 1997, while she was a student at Evergreen State College, to an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant to enable him to stay in the United States. They never lived together and were divorced in 2002, when she and Kitzhaber began dating in the final year of his second term.

“I am proud of her and I support her,” Kitzhaber said in response to the opening question put to him at the City Club of Portland forum, which was broadcast live on public radio stations statewide. “It was the right thing to do.

“This is now a very personal issue and we just need some time to work this out together.”

They have not announced a marriage date.

Kitzhaber says he learned of the sham marriage Tuesday night, a day before the story was posted online.

Hayes appeared before reporters Thursday to give a brief statement and offer an apology to the public. The statute of limitations is five years.

Hayes says she accepted about $5,000, which she spent on a laptop and school expenses.

Kitzhaber also defended Hayes’ activity as an adviser on energy, economic development and other issues against questions raised in a separate Willamette Week story about whether Hayes used her position as first lady for personal gain.

She was an energy consultant when they first met, and she also lost a 2002 bid for an Oregon House seat in Central Oregon.

“I do not agree with the assertions or conclusions in Willamette Week,” Kitzhaber says. He added that it was not reasonable to ask her to give up her career.

Kitzhaber also says he is uncertain whether Hayes would resume such a role if he is elected Nov. 4 to a fourth nonconsecutive term as governor.

Richardson response

Richardson, a state representative from Southern Oregon since 2003, declined to attack Kitzhaber directly on the marriage issue. “I feel for him,” he says.

But he called for a special prosecutor to investigate whether state ethics laws were broken in connection with Hayes’ activities as an adviser.

“When they use that access for personal gain, that’s a violation of statute,” Richardson says.

“That’s an assertion, not a fact,” Kitzhaber responded.

A violation would be determined by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which conducts a preliminary inquiry to determine if there are sufficient grounds to proceed, and if it does, a full-blown investigation of whether the ethics law has been broken.

The maximum penalty is $5,000, although the amount of personal gain can multiply a civil penalty by two times the gain.

Kitzhaber likened Hayes’ situation to that of Frank Roberts, a state senator married to Barbara Roberts when she was governor. Frank Roberts died of cancer in September 1993; Barbara Roberts chose not to proceed with a re-election bid in 1994, when Kitzhaber challenged her in the primary and eventually was elected governor.

“I think there are some people really concerned and nervous about strong successful women in the professional sphere,” Kitzhaber says.

Richardson attempted to link Hayes with Patricia McCaig, Roberts’ former chief of staff, who became a paid consultant on the Columbia River Crossing and who later offered unpaid political advice to Kitzhaber.

Another Willamette Week story raised questions about whether the unpaid work should have been reported as a noncash contribution to Kitzhaber’s campaign. The campaign did so subsequently, but the secretary of state says it need not have been reported.

“It’s about a pattern of avoiding responsibility,” Richardson says.

Public opinion surveys indicate Kitzhaber maintaining a lead over Richardson, but they were conducted before this week’s news disclosures.

However, some results also indicate that among women likely to vote, Kitzhaber leads Richardson by double-digit margins.

Closing statements

Kitzhaber, in his closing, says Richardson’s opposition to women’s reproductive rights and marriages by same-sex couples put the GOP nominee out of step with Oregon values.

"These are values I consider critical to our state's future," he says.

"This state is a vastly better place today than it was four years ago, when we were highly polarized, we had high unemployment, a huge budget deficit and a divided Legislature."

Richardson assailed Kitzhaber’s record. He says unemployment remains above the national average, and high school graduation rate is below the national average.

"The governor wants a fourth term, but he hasn't earned it," Richardson says.

He described Kitzhaber's current term as the “single most inept and unethical administration in the history of this state."

The City Club forum focused on issues of economic and racial equity, but some questions allowed both candidates to restate positions on various issues.

The City Club forum was the third of four joint public appearances since Labor Day. The final one is Tuesday on Portland television station KGW, cosponsored by The Oregonian.

They also have appeared together at three newspaper editorial boards, including Sept. 22 with the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group.

pwong@PamplinMedia.com

(503) 385-4899

twitter.com/capitolwong


Adds fuller quotes for closing statements; clarifies how state ethics law violations are handled; fixes a typo. JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT