The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is wasting its time with its newly launched inquiry into the consulting work of Governor Kitzhaber’s longtime girlfriend and now fiancee. Unless the facts differ from what has been widely reported, this was not a question of laws being broken. It was a matter of lousy judgment on the part of the governor and Cylvia Hayes.
The story is that she was pursuing and received consulting contracts with various environmentalist interest groups while she had a semi-official role in the Kitzhaber administration as well as a close personal one in the governor’s life. She passed herself off as Oregon’s “first lady” and reportedly had a desk in the governor’s office. This was an improper arrangement, but it was not illegal.
The law bars public officials and employees from using their office or employment for private gain other than their pay. But Hayes was not on the state’s payroll, as far as is known. She had not been appointed or elected to anything. The source of her arrangement with Kitzhaber was strictly private and personal, and any influence she had over state policies or agency actions was the result of her intimate relationship with the governor.
As a private citizen, she was free to pursue any contracts or sources of income she wanted. It was Kitzhaber who should have seen that it was an abuse of a sound principle — don’t mix personal affairs and business — to give his girlfriend a role in his administration if she was going to get paid by outsiders to affect, directly or indirectly, state policies.
It was the governor who should have seen the conflict and taken steps to stop it. Maybe he didn’t see it because he didn’t want domestic strife. (One of his staffers did raise questions and was forced out.) Or maybe he didn’t object because he and Hayes agree on the causes she is promoting.
Unless Hayes was paid by both the state and her outside employers, the Ethics Commission won’t find any violation and make it stick. And the great majority of voters in a small but because of numbers influential part of western Oregon — Portland, Eugene, Corvallis included — has already sent the governor the message that to them, this lack of judgment makes no difference at all. (hh)