PORTLAND, Ore. >> Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said Friday he was surprised and hurt to learn this week that his fiancee accepted money to enter a fraudulent marriage with an immigrant seeking to remain in the country.
The Democratic governor publicly addressed the stunning confession by his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, for the first time in a debate days before voters receive their ballots in the state’s all-mail election.
“I learned this three days ago,” Kitzhaber said at the City Club of Portland. “I was obviously very taken aback by it and hurt. I have some processing to do on that.”
On Thursday, Hayes held a news conference to admit she broke the law with her 1997 marriage to a man from Ethiopa. She said she was in need of money, and her actions were illegal and wrong.
Hayes’ revelation was prompted by questions from the Willamette Week, and threw a curve ball at Kitzhaber’s march toward his likely re-election next month.
The governor said Friday it took courage for his fiancee to hold the news conference, and he’s proud of her.
“This is now a very personal issue,” Kitzhaber said. “And we just need some time to work through this together.”
He noted the wedding will still happen, “hopefully very soon.”
His Republican rival, meanwhile, tried to steer the conversation toward another recent allegation about Hayes — a story by the Willamette Week newspaper in Portland that said she’s used her position as the governor’s fiancee to advance her private consulting business.
State Rep. Dennis Richardson called for Kitzhaber to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the allegations, a suggestion Kitzhaber rejected.
Though they have yet to marry, Kitzhaber refers to Hayes as the “first lady,” and she has embraced the role of political spouse while continuing her work as an energy consultant. She has been active in developing Kitzhaber’s energy and environmental policy.
Richardson treaded carefully on the marriage topic as he tries to overcome the odds and become Oregon’s first Republican governor in nearly three decades.
“On the issue of the sham marriage, I feel for the governor,” Richardson said. “This is not something that involves us.”