Scandal after bizarre scandal has rocked the re-election campaign of Oregon’s Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber, who had been cruising to a fourth term in office.
First there were conflict of interest allegations. Then came the admission of a sham marriage with an immigrant. And now it appears a farm was purchased in order to grow a great deal of marijuana.
But the scandals don’t center on Kitzhaber himself. Instead, the main character in Oregon’s October Surprises is Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, who the governor elevated by bringing her on as an adviser and calling her the state’s “First Lady.”
The latest revelation about Hayes is that she planned to farm marijuana on 60 acres of land in rural Washington back in 1997. Hayes told reporters Monday that while she “planned” to use the expansive property to grow pot, the operation “never materialized” and the land went into foreclosure.
Also in 1997, Hayes entered a sham marriage with a Nigerian immigrant, for which she was paid $5,000. The fraudulent marriage was revealed last week.
The story was sparked by retired real estate broker Patrick Siemion, who found marijuana trimmings on the property after it was foreclosed. Siemion told The Oregonian that it was clear to him Hayes was the leader of the operation.
“She did all the talking, all the negotiating,” he said. Siemion did not return a call from The Daily Beast.
Hayes told reporters that she was “not proud of that brief period” in which she and a “dangerous man” who abused her lived on the property near the Canadian border. She also insists she was not “financially involved” with the down payment or mortgage payments on the property.
Luckily for Hayes, the weed farm exposé might not be so egregious in the eyes of the governor, who has been progressive on pot policy. Just last month, Kitzhaber signed a new medical marijuana bill into law. And in any case, it might not be all downside: Hayes’ planned grow operation puts the First Lady in the grand tradition of American heroes George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who both grew hemp.
Also, while the pot farm revelation is Kitzhaber’s latest setback, it is perhaps less scandalous than the sham marriage discovery, which genuinely rocked Oregon’s political scene when it broke last week.
The unearthing of Hayes’ sketchy past makes for good gossip-fodder, but it could obscure a third scandal that may involve a real breach of the public trust. Last week, the Willamette Week reported that Hayes’ work in the governor’s office as an adviser was a possible conflict of interest with her other work as a paid policy consultant for private advocacy groups.
On Monday, the governor called for the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to investigate whether Hayes had used her position as First Lady to advance her private consulting business, the Associated Press reported.