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Emails Shed Light On Oregon’s Former First Couple

Oregon Governor's Office
Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, (center) pose for a group photo during a trade mission to Korea.

More than 18,000 pages of emails released Tuesday show a close — and at times ethically cloudy — relationship between former Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes.

The messages between Kitzhaber and Hayes, sent to and from a personal email account of the former governor, read like any couple in Oregon could have written them. 

Many begin with the word “Dear.” Some of the emails were work projects forwarded from partner to partner, with a “please print” written at the top. Others are notes, or links to news stories, or pictures of the couple. 

Some are full of yearning, like in September 2011 when Kitzhaber wrote,  “It would be nice if Cylvia and I had at last [sic] one evening together and time for a run/work out” before he was to leave for Washington. 

But unlike other couples in Oregon, the emails show a couple with their hands holding the highest reins of power in the state – with the borders blurry of when public policy stopped and private enterprise began. 

A ‘Conduit’ To The Administration On Environmental Issues 

Gov. Kate Brown’s office released more than 18,000 pages of Kitzhaber’s emails in response to numerous public record requests by media organizations.  

A review by OPB of the emails shows Kitzhaber at times deferring to Hayes on environmental and energy policy issues facing the state. 

This comes as Hayes was both advising the governor and working for a consulting firm that worked with environmental groups seeking changes to state laws and regulations. 

“She has well-developed and long standing contacts in the environmental community and they will continue to view her as a conduit into the administration on these policy issues,” Kitzhaber wrote in 2011.

Hayes was paid $118,000 for communications work for Clean Economy Development Center when she also was advising the governor’s office on similar issues, according to reporting by the EO and Pamplin Media groups. Hayes was on the CEDC’s payroll from 2011 to 2012, when she also served as an unpaid adviser to the governor on energy and economic development policies.

State and federal officials have both opened investigations into Kitzhaber and Hayes. The investigations revolve around allegations that the pair used their positions in state government for personal gain. 

Gov. Brown’s office wrote that “the release of these emails partially fulfills a number of outstanding public records requests; the Office of the Governor continues to review the more than 12,000 emails from this account, and it will produce additional emails in the near future.”

Governor’s Office Spokesperson Melissa Navas did not return requests for comment to OPB. 

Gowns, Bees, And A Horse For The First Lady

The emails also offer a glimpse inside into the inner-workings of Oregon’s former first couple, providing some sense of their life together while at the governor’s home, Mahonia Hall.
“Any interest in stopping by this event Maybe [sic] you could wear a gown,” Kitzhaber wrote to Hayes on April 10, 2012 in response to an invitation to Planned Parenthood’s Spring Gala.
In an email from March 29, 2012, Jan Murdock, Kitzhaber’s executive assistant said someone called the governor’s office and wanted to know if the couple wanted a beehive installed at Mahonia Hall.
“… it could produce a nice amount of honey for your personal use (or for gifts),” Murdock wrote. “I guess that the White House has bee hives.”
“What do you think?” Hayes wrote to Kitzhaber. “Want some bees at Mahonia?”
“Yes YES YES I definitely want the bees,” Kitzhaber replied.
“Ha ha [sic] As I suspected,” Hayes replied. “Could bee very cool.”
In another email, Kitzhaber makes it clear that his appearance at an Albany Veterans Day parade is contingent on Hayes being by his side. 

“They asked us to ride in the Albany Vets Day parade on Friday, and we are inclined to do it – as long as Cylvia has a horse too,” Kitzhaber wrote in 2011.


Contributing: Lizzy Duffy, Conrad Wilson, Amelia Templeton, April Baer, Chris Lehman and Ryan Haas 

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting