PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Weeks shy of his 68th birthday, John Kitzhaber — the only person elected to four terms as Oregon governor — is now the fifth person to resign the governorship, but the first to do so under a cloud.
Kitzhaber was re-elected in November, easily defeating Rep. Dennis Richardson despite allegations that surfaced in October about his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes.
She admitted to an illegal sham marriage with an Ethiopian teen in 1997 to help him get his US citizenship, and admitted taking $5,000 for it. Months later, she and her boyfriend at the time bought a plot of land in Washington state for an admitted marijuana grow operation.
Since then, more revelations about First Lady Cylvia Hayes came out, including questions about whether she withheld personal income from recent tax returns, and questions over whether she received job offers and fellowships from companies interested in doing business with the state of Oregon
At a press conference Jan. 30 to answer questions about Hayes, Kitzhaber was asked by KOIN 6 News if he was blinded by love.
“I am in love,” he said, but does not feel he has been “blinded by love.”
“I have no regrets over my personal relationship with Cylvia Hayes. She is a wonderful lady.”Who is John Kitzhaber?
His official state biography said John Kitzhaber was born in Colfax, Washington, on March 5, 1947 and moved to Oregon with his family in 1958. He studied medicine at what is now known as OHSU, and was an emergency room doctor in Roseburg from 1974 to 1988.
He entered the Oregon legislature in 1978, then moved to the state Senate in 1980 and served three terms. He was president of the senate from 1985 to 1993.
He ran and won his first race for governor in 1994, and was handily re-elected in 1998. Those two terms saw economic growth in the state and a health plan for Oregonians.
Kitzhaber left government work after his second term but decided to jump back into the public fray when he ran for governor again in 2010.
He won an unprecedented third term, and shared the governor’s house with Cylvia Hayes, who was officially identified as First Lady.
She set up an environmental nonprofit and got involved in politics, meeting influential people, and in 2002 was the Democratic nominee for a legislative district in Bend. She met Kitzhaber in the waning days of his second term as governor when he campaigned for her.
Hayes lost her race. Kitzhaber left office at the beginning of 2003 and announced days later that he and his wife were divorcing. Later, he and Hayes reconnected, and their relationship became romantic despite a 20-year age difference. He is 67. She is 47.
In 2010, after eight years out of office, Kitzhaber made a successful comeback bid and became Oregon’s only governor to serve more than two terms. At his side was Hayes, who moved with him to the governor’s mansion in Salem.
Hayes took an active role in Kitzhaber’s administration. She used the title “first lady,” though the two have never married, and ran public initiatives targeting poverty and hunger. Privately, she was a frequent presence at meetings.
He ran for and won a fourth term as governor in November 2014 and took the oath of office on Jan. 12, 2015. He announced the next day he has a treatable form of skin cancer.
Now, a month later, the John Kitzhaber Era in Oregon has ended with his decision to resign under the swirling ethics controversy and a freshly launched criminal investigation mostly centered on the now former First Lady, Cylvia Hayes.
Four other Oregon governors have resigned: LaFayette Grover in 1877, George Chamberlain in 1909, Frank Benson in 1910 and Douglas McKay in 1952. Grover and Chamberlain moved to the US Senate, while Benson cited an illness. McKay moved to Washington to work with President Dwight Eisenhower.The Associated Press contributed to this report.