Private Lives and Oregon Politics

I am by no means an expert on the politics and culture of Oregon, but for the most part people I’ve met from that state seem pretty sensible, and not the kind of folk especially prone to being consumers of tabloid disclosures. So it must seem strange to have not one but two candidates in the top two statewide elections associated with headline-grabbing intrusions from their personal lives.

Earlier this year we learned that police reports had been filed on three occasions against Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby for allegedly stalking an ex-boyfriend and ex-husband between 2007 and 2013. And now we’re hearing all about Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber’s fiancee, who is admitting she engaged in what is popularly called a “green card marriage” in 1997 that she never told Kitzhaber about.

Cylvia Hayes, who lives with Kitzhaber in the governor’s residence and is referred to (by her fiance, at least) as Oregon’s First Lady, committed felony wedding fraud by accepting $5,000 for a “marriage of convenience” to allow a teenaged Ethiopean immigrant to stay in the country. But the statute of limitations has long run out. And nobody, of course, is alleging Kitzhaber did anything wrong. But you never know how linking a “personal scandal” to the volatile issue of immigration will affect perceptions, even in a relatively liberal jurisdiction like Oregon.

Kitzhaber has been cruising along in good shape against Republican Dennis Richardson in sparse recent polling, unlike Wehby, whose mistakes extend well beyond past behavior towards mates, and who’s facing (and badly trailing) a formidable opponent in Sen. Jeff Merkley. But I’m guessing 2014 will long be remembered in Oregon as a TMI election year.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.