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Oregon Election Season Was One For the History Books, Experts Say

Sunday, November 02, 2014


With approximately half of ballots yet to hit polling offices, Oregon now heads into the final weekend of what will probably go down as the most memorable campaign season in a decade.

Oregon’s mid-term election has featured high profile ballot measures, big money donors and scandal after scandal. 

“It makes you feel like it’s The Jerry Springer Show, not an Oregon election,” said Len Bergstein, a political consultant with Northwest Strategies. “It was the most uncharted election season we’ve had in a long time. There were just a lot of things that happened that no one expected.”

Governor’s Race and Beyond

Most expect that Governor John Kitzhaber will win an unprecedented fourth term in office. That speaks to a tremendously successful career in some respects. But Kitzhaber’s performance as a governor next term may be hampered by the scandals that erupted in the media, in classic “October Surprise” fashion, late in the campaign.

“You can’t go through that without it having an impact on the governor,” Bergstein said. “It’s been brutal.”

Revelations that Kitzhaber’s fiancée Cylvia Hayes had a for-profit sham marriage and an alleged pot-farm in Washington (before it was legal) were headlines for weeks. But charges that Hayes may have been engaged in lobbying as a consultant at the same time she was treated as a “public official” and “First Lady of Oregon” may linger on into his administration.

Kitzhaber will have to face an Oregon Ethics Commission investigation into the charges later this year or early next year, at the very least.

Comparisons could be drawn to Sam Adams, the Mayor of Portland whose affair with legislative intern Beau Breedlove went public right at the beginning of Adam’s first and only term in office. Adams stayed in office, but critics say the scandal cost Adams the political clout he needed to push through ambitious projects.

Bernstein said Kitzhaber may suffer a similar fate.

“I think he’ll personally have a lot less energy,” Bergstein said. “Because it hasn’t been an election run on the issues, he won’t have a mandate. He’s still going to be one of the smarter guys in the room, but he might not have the same umph to do a grand bargain.”

Wehby Faceplants

Monica Wehby looked like the best shot the GOP has had in years to take a U.S. Senate seat from Democrats. The politically moderate, Portland neurosurgeon had a message that condemned extremist politics and a personal story that should have resonated with female voters. But right out of the gate, the media, perhaps fed by political opposition research, published police reports filed by her ex-husband and a former boyfriend that characterized Wehby as a stalker. 

Wehby had attracted the support of the Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners PAC. But in September Freedom Partners pulled the rug - and their money - out from under her.

“Since the beginning of October her campaign has gone dormant, mainly because the Koch brothers pulled out,” said Jim Moore PhD director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University. “She doesn’t have enough money to compete.”

Moore said it reminded him of 2002, when former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury mounted a largely symbolic campaign to dislodge Republican Gordon Smith from his U.S. Senate seat. 

“It was basically just giving Democrats a place to vote,” Moore said.

Mammoth Measure and Money

A total of $267.7 million has been spent in Oregon this campaign season, according the website HackOregon. Most of that cash has been funneled into the cluster of hot button ballot measures, the likes of which Oregon hasn’t seen since voters approved assisted suicide in 1994.

“Our ballot measures haven’t been as lively in about 20 years,” Moore said. "That’s been driving huge amounts of money into the state."

Campaigns for and against the big three ballot measures 90, 91 and 92 have raked in a total of approximately $40 million in campaign contributions.

“The money is jaw dropping,” Moore said. He believes the dollars are a lot for the Beaver State, but not the rest of the country. “Unless the Supreme Court changes its rules, I think Oregon is going to join the new normal in the rest of the country.”

Full of Sound and Fury

Despite record campaign contributions, game-changing ballot measure choices and historic scandals, no one seems to think Oregon voters are going to behave any differently than they have in the past. Issues like GMOs and marijuana aren’t particularly inspiring voter turnout.

“We thought the pot measure would get Democrats to turn out,” said Tim Hibbits of marketing research firm DHM Research. “But we just aren’t seeing it on the ballots that are returning.”

Oregon’s vote by mail system creates a pretty steady stream of data to watch as ballots are gradually turned in in the weeks leading up to Nov. 4.

"I don't anticipate any huge changes in the turnout because of the GMO or Pot measures." said Tim Hibbits of marketing research firm Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall "I've looked at 60 years of elections, turnout out is almost always around 68-73 percent.”

So far the voters are on track for a 71 percent turn out. "That’s roughly what the state had in its last two-midterm elections", Moore said.

According to experts, the candidates just aren’t sexy; and even though the ballot measures are paradigm shifters, they aren't hitting any demographic directly enough to fire up voters.

“It’s hard to have a ballot measure drive voter turnout if it doesn’t target a very specific group the way a vote on labor unions, tax or same sex marriage issues does,” said Bergstein.

What’s more, voter sentiment hasn’t moved much. Most experts expect that the big players will return to office next year, with Kitzhaber and Merkley keeping their jobs and the Democrats holding onto power in both chambers in the state legislature.

The Huffington Post’s poll tracker shows U.S. Sen. Merkley leading GOP challenger Monica Wehby with 52.6 percent to 35.4 percent and Kitzhaber leading Richardson with 49.6 percent to 40.3 percent. 

Current polling also indicates that the big three ballot measures could fail.

An Elway Research poll commissioned by the Oregonian and KGW was conducted on Oct 26 and 27. It estimated Measure 91 had 44 percent of voters supporting pot legalization, 46 percent against it and 7 percent undecided. 

Measure 90, which would create nonpartisan primary elections, has the support of 36 percent of voters while 38 percent said they didn't support the measure and 26 percent of respondents said they're undecided.

Elway estimated 42 percent of voters supported Measure 92’s GMO labeling and 48 percent opposed it, with 7 percent undecided.

That said, Bergstein sees Measure 92, more than anything else on the ballot, as Oregon’s opportunity to stand out. He thinks if it fails it will be just another victory for big money in politics. But if it wins, Bergstein likens it to the fight against big tobacco.

“It would say, ‘Hey we turned a corner on this issue,’” Bergstein said. “Other states might follow and it would validate that one community’s view had become more mainstream.”

Polls close Nov. 4 at 8 PM.


Related Slideshow: Timeline of Cylvia Hayes’ Life and Misdeeds

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March 28, 1989

Hayes divorced Todd Hayes in the state of Washington 

Dec. 17, 1996

Hayes divorced Doug McCarthy

July 19, 1997

King County, Washington marriage records revealed Hayes married an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, Abraham B. Abraham. There was no record of the couple living together and four years and three months later they filed for divorce, which was finalized in 2002. Hayes admitted to being paid $5,000 for the marriage, which she said she used to pay for school expenses and did not report in her taxes.

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Evergreen State College


Hayes transferred to Evergreen from Bellevue Community College to earn a bachelor's degree in environmental studies in 1994. There she played on the woman's soccer team and was awarded academic and athletic scholarships.  She stayed on at Evergreen to earn a master's degree in Environmental Studies in 1997. 

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Alleged pot farm property


Hayes and her then boyfriend bought property in Okanogan, Washington near the Canadian border. Hayes admitted the property was intended for marijuana growth, although she said the operation “never materialized” and that she was never financially involved. However, the person who took over the property said that Hayes and her boyfriend stopped making payments and that there was evidence of marijuana being grown there. She gave up her interest in the property in April 1998. 

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Hayes moved from Washington to Bend, Oregon. Hayes has said she lived in a tent on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land over the summer while she got established in the area and finished her thesis. 

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Hayes founded 3EStraegies in Bend, a clean economy consulting firm. The business was built from Earth Connections, a nonprofit organization Hayes created two years earlier. In 2009 she converted 3EStraegies into a for-profit company. 

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Run for office


Hayes ran for the Oregon State Legislature as the House Democratic nominee. She lost to Rep. Ben Westlund from Bend. 

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Kitzhaber Divorce


Governor John Kitzhaber divorced his second wife of eight years, Sharon Kitzhaber, after he left the governor’s office in 2003. The two had become engaged during Kitzhaber’s first governor campaign.

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Kitzhaber and Hayes


The first media report that Kitzhaber had a new relationship with Hayes appeared in the Bend Bulletin.

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Kitzhaber Reelection


Kitzhaber won a third non-consecutive term and took office as governor. He had held the title previously for two terms from 1995 to 2003. He told the press that Hayes would take on the responsibilities and roles of a first lady.

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Investigation by DOJ

August 2010

Hayes was the center of a criminal investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice surrounding a consulting contract she received from the Oregon Department of Energy. Although her firm was ranked last, it was still granted work. Hayes was never accused of any wrongdoing, but the investigation showed state officials had guided a $60,000 contract to her firm.

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Move into Mahonia Hall

December 2010

After Kitzhaber was reelected in 2010, he announced that while he'd be spending most of his time in his Portland home, when in Salem his girlfriend Cylvia Hayes would stay with him in the Governor's mansion, Mahonia Hall. 

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Work for the Governor


Hayes was placed on a seven-member team by Kitzhaber to write a 10-year energy plan. Hayes also gave speeches as the first lady and policy adviser in the area of energy issues.

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3E Contracts with Demos

March 2013

Hayes signed a $20,611 consulting contract with Resource Media, a firm that had contacted Kitzhaber’s office the year before to promote a Pacific Coast climate and energy initiative. 

May 2013

Hayes signed a $40,000 contract with the nonprofit Energy Foundation, who she had worked with as part of her duties as a Kitzhaber adviser. Hayes had spoken at an Energy Foundation event in 2012 and emailed them in the start of 2013, mentioning funding for the company. 

June 2013

Hayes signed a $25,000 contract with Demos. Hayes spoke and moderated a Demos panel, but was introduced as Oregon’s first lady, rather than a paid consultant.

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Aug 2014

Kitzhaber and Hayes announced their engagement. However, no wedding date was announced.

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Expose on Hayes

Oct. 8 2014

The Willamette Week published an expose on Hayes alleging that her role as a private consultant and her position as Oregon's "first lady" presented a conflict of interest and an ethics violation. 

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Oct. 9, 2014

In a press conference, Hayes admitted to an illegal green card marriage in 1997. She said that she told Governor Kitzhaber about the illegal marriage only a day before the news went public. 

Oct. 13, 2014

Hayes admitted to KOIN 6 NEWS that she had lived on a property in Okanogan, WA used for growing and selling marijuana.

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Investigation called for

Oct. 14, 2014

The Oregon GOP called for an investigation into both Cylvia Hayes and the governor over allegations of self-dealing outlined in the Willamette Week.

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The bank loan

Oct. 15, 2014

The Willamette Week wrote that the Governor’s office had helped extend a government loan for a former client of Hayes’ consulting business in Bend, Oregon. The owner of a golf course was given an extension on his loan from the Oregon Department of Energy after the Department was persuaded by Kitzhaber's staff. The owner wrote a thank-you note to Hayes, Kitzhaber’s chief of staff and his business advisor for their help with the situation. 

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Ethics Commission

Oct. 15, 2014

The GOP filed a complaint with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission against Kitzhaber, Hayes, and the governor's unpaid advisor Patricia McCaig. It claimed there was a “conflict of interest transactions, employment relationships, benefits from public contracts, usage of public buildings and staff for personal financial gain and business."

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Rep. Berger complaint

Oct. 16, 2014
State Representative Vicki Berger (R-Salem) filed a complaint against Hayes with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Berger said in her statement, “I am asking for a full investigation of the possible misuse of state resources by Ms. Hayes.” 

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Former boyfriend speaks

Oct. 21, 2014

Karl Topinka, Hayes' former boyfriend she owned the pot farm in Washington with, told the Daily Mail that Hayes couldn't be trusted. He also said the pot farm was all her idea and she had done the planning. Topinka said Hayes failed to tell him of her illegal marriage that had taken place shortly before. 

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Ethics document

Oct. 25, 2014

Governor Kitzhaber did not list Hayes in an ethics document consisting of lobbyists he had a relationship with, GoLocalPDX reported. In a section where he was supposed to disclose “any compensated lobbyist who was associated with a business with which you or a member or your household was associated during 2013,” Kitzhaber wrote “N/A” or not applicable.

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Open records complaint

Oct. 29, 2014

GoLocalPDX.com filed a complaint with the Attorney General of Oregon against the Governor’s office for failure to comply with the open records law. A request for information to determine if the Governor had received income from Hayes’ consulting contracts was ignored for over two weeks, prompting the official complaint. 

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Opponents demand records

Oct. 30, 2014

Republican governor candidate Dennis Richardson was joined by Democrat Ifeanyichukwu Diru, Kitzhaber’s primary opponent, in a press conference demanding the Governor release records relating to the scandal. 

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Kitzhaber leads polls

Oct. 31, 2014

Governor Kitzhaber led by 10 points over opponent Richardson in a recent poll released by KATU a few days before the 2014 election.

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Hayes Speaks Out

Nov. 6, 2014

Cylvia Hayes made her first public statement since her confession that she had been part of an illegal sham marriage. The statement which she made via her Facebook page reads: 

"I just want to thank all of you who have sent such support and encouragement over these past very challenging weeks. In the midst of the storm the positive incoming from friends, family and colleagues has been enormously helpful. Thank you for taking time to reach out."

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Federal Investigation

Cylvia Hayes could face federal fraud charges for her dual role as a private consultant and public official in the Governor’s office, a series of legal experts told GoLocalPDX. 

The findings of an Oregon Ethics Commission investigation will determine whether Hayes violated state ethics laws when she accepted contracts for her private consulting firm while working in the governor’s office under the title of “Oregon’s First Lady.”

On Jan. 9, Willamette Week reported Hayes was under federal investigation, raising the specter of federal charges. 

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Press Conference

Jan. 30, 2014

Governor John Kitzhaber held a press conference and responded to questions surrounding investigations, ethics violations and Cylvia Hayes. When asked if he would resign, he said “I was elected by the people of this state to do a job, and I intend to do it.”

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Feb. 11, 2014

A GoLocalPDX investigation into the writings of Cylvia Hayes found portions of her Green Jobs Growth Plan: 2011-2019 report were plagiarized from a pre-existing state report.


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