Oregon Election Season Was One For the History Books, Experts Say
Sunday, November 02, 2014
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
Related Slideshow: Timeline of Cylvia Hayes’ Life and Misdeeds
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.
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.
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.
Investigation by DOJ
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.
3E Contracts with Demos
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
- Oregon GOP to Demand State Ethics Commission Investigate Kitzhaber
- Kitzhaber, Merkely, Pot Lead in Latest KATU Poll
- Democrat Joins with Richardson, Demands Kitzhaber Release Records
- Hayes Scandal Could Implode Kitzhaber’s Campaign
- How ‘First Lady’ Cylvia Hayes is Letting Feminists Down