PORTLAND — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said Friday that first lady Cylvia Hayes will have no policy role in his administration moving forward.
Kitzhaber made the announcement in reaction to news reports early this week that Hayes may have failed to report $118,000 on her tax returns that she received for work for a nonprofit clean energy consultancy organization.
During a press conference Friday, Kitzhaber said some of the questions raised in news reports about Hayes’ paid work were legitimate. “Questions have also been raised concerning my own roles and responsibilities that also deserve a response, or a pathway to an answer, and I will try to do that as well,” Kitzhaber said.
However, there were still many questions Kitzhaber did not answer.
He said the couple files separate tax returns, and he could not address questions about the first lady’s filings. He declined to say whether he discussed the returns with Hayes.
The group that paid Hayes in 2011 and 2012, the Clean Economy Development Center, has also worked to shape Oregon’s low-carbon fuel policy. That prompted Republican legislative leaders on Friday afternoon to call for Democrats to suspend work on a bill that would make the low-carbon fuel standard permanent, at least until any investigations of Kitzhaber and Hayes are complete.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is considering whether to proceed with an official investigation into whether Hayes and Kitzhaber used their public positions for private gain. A decision is expected in March.
A hearing on the low-carbon fuel legislation, SB 324, is scheduled for Monday. Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate did not respond to requests for comment by deadline Friday.
Kitzhaber rejected the idea that groups that paid Hayes influenced his policy positions.
“I think the fact that Cylvia and I have some areas of common interest, climate change being one, low-carbon fuels being one, measuring outcomes through metrics being another, the fact that we have a convergence of interests does not seem to me to imply that if those issues appear in my administration, that influence has necessarily been exerted.” So I don’t buy the basic premise.”
Kitzhaber also declined to say on Friday whether it was appropriate for Hayes to contact state employees on behalf of her clients, such as Demos, a group that hired Hayes to work with states to adopt an indicator called the Genuine Progress Indicator.
“I believe that it is an appropriate question for the ethics commission to address,” Kitzhaber said.
An email released to the EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group Capital Bureau this week reveals the awkward position that Hayes’ contracting created for state employees.
In May 2013, Hayes called David Allaway, an employee with the Department of Environmental Quality’s solid waste program, to discuss the Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI, and how it might align with DEQ’s strategic planning. Allaway summarized the conversation in an email to DEQ director Dick Pedersen and legislative coordinator Palmer Mason.
“Although it was officially in her capacity as a private contractor (3E Strategies), and not as the First Lady, the fact is she is the First Lady and some of this may get back to the Governor,” Allaway wrote. “She also mentioned a few relevant initiatives that the Governor’s Office will be supporting or leading.”
In an email Friday afternoon, Allaway said DEQ did eventually participate in development of a GPI for Oregon. The agency discussed methodologies and data for the environmental measures with staff at the Department of Administrative Services, which is working to create an Oregon GPI.
Kitzhaber said he and Hayes tried to keep separate her role as an unpaid policy adviser and private contractor.
“We have attempted to draw a very clear line over the last four years between her paid professional work and her volunteer work as first lady,” Kitzhaber said.
Kitzhaber said he would not call for an investigation of his and Hayes’ activities.
“I still don’t believe that is necessary,” Kitzhaber said.
The couple is still engaged to be married and although the governor deferred to Hayes on many questions, he would not say if the first lady will be available to answer questions any time soon. Hayes is in Sweden visiting friends at her own expense.
“She’s an independent woman, she doesn’t work for the state of Oregon and it’s not my role to make her available,” Kitzhaber said. “If Cylvia wants to talk to the press, she’ll get in touch with you.”