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Revelations From Governor's Fiancee Show Flair For Scandal In Oregon

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Domestic politics now. Earlier this week, Cylvia Hayes, who was the longtime companion of the governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, admitted that in 1997, she received $5,000 to marry an Ethiopian man who wanted a green card. We're joined now by NPR political editor Charlie Mahtesian. Charlie, thanks for being with us.

CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: What do we know about what happened?

MAHTESIAN: Well, we know a pretty amazing story. It had been reported before that Cylvia Hayes had been married, but it wasn't known publicly until this week that she been married three times, with one of those marriages to an Ethiopian immigrant who was 11 years younger than she was. And after that fact surfaced, the first lady had to confess that she had indeed entered into this sham marriage in 1997 and was paid to do it so that the immigrant could gain residency in the United States. And now, keep in mind, that entering into what's known as a green-card marriage or a sham marriage like that is a federal crime. So it's possible we haven't heard the end of this.

SIMON: Yeah. The governor is up for reelection. Can we project what kind of effect it might have or might already begin to have on his reelection?

MAHTESIAN: Well, the news is still pretty fresh, so the impact isn't entirely obvious yet. The governor's running for an unprecedented fourth term in office. So it's pretty clear that he has a solid reservoir of support. And if you look at the polls, he's been a consistent leader. But the rollout of the state's health insurance exchange website was pretty disastrous. So that's a silver bullet that he's going to have to fend off in addition to the recent distractions surrounding these revelations regarding his wife.

SIMON: Must we note that there's been a recent history of this in Oregon politics, hasn't there?

MAHTESIAN: Well, it's fair to say that Oregon has shown a real flair for the bizarre personal scandal. There was, of course, Senator Bob Packwood who was forced to resign his seat in 1995 amid allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of women. Then about a decade ago, the state was rocked by the salacious revelations about former governor and also secretary - U.S. Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt who reportedly had a sexual relation with a young teenage girl during his time as the mayor of Portland in the 1970s. And if that wasn't enough, more recently in 2011, a member of Congress name David Wu from the Portland area stepped down amid accusations that he had made unwanted sexual advances toward the teenage daughter of a campaign donor. That's a lot for a fairly small state to contend with.

SIMON: NPR political editor Charlie Mahtesian, thanks so much for being with us.

MAHTESIAN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And you're listening to NPR news. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 11, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
Earlier versions of this story referred to Oregon's first lady Cylvia Hayes as the wife of the governor. In fact, she is the governor's fiancée.