Her consulting firm, 3EStrrategies, has won three contracts with the state, most recently a $135,000 deal to help develop a green jobs plan. She hopes to do more state work, but realizes that if her partner is elected governor, it would bring more scrutiny to her state-derived income.
She says she intends to prove in her work over the next year that any future contracts would be based on merit, not connections. She said the goal is to “keep all of the ethics issues, real and perceived, above-board. ... That's hugely important to the Kitzhaber campaign and 3EStrategies.”
But if being half of Oregon's top power couple complicates her livelihood, it won't hurt Hayes' political aspirations.
Hayes ran for the state Legislature in 2002 and publicly toyed with another run in 2003.
Matt Shinderman, an Oregon State University-Cascades Campus natural resources professor who worked with Hayes on her earlier nonprofit endeavors, says that if Kitzhaber is elected, he sees another run for office in Hayes' future.
“I suspect if that were to happen, and she were to have that kind of visibility, that at some point in the future she might pursue office again,” he said. “Cylvia has great potential as an elected official.”
Hayes said she is happy with her consulting work for now, but she is optimistic that when it comes to politics, “that door might open” in the future, adding that, “I get asked and encouraged to (run for office) really often.”
“I'm a public servant at heart,” she said. “But I don't have my eyes on any particular time frame, any particular office whatsoever.”
Hayes grew up on a farm in rural Washington. She attended Bellevue Community College, then transferred to The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, where she obtained bachelor's and master's degrees.
She worked in Washington for a while, and got married and divorced.
She moved to Bend in 1998 and promptly became active in local politics. She founded a nonprofit called Earth Connections, intended to help individuals live environmentally.
Two years later, the group was renamed 3EStrategies, a reference to equity, ecology and economy.
Meeting the governor
It was in 2003, when she was flirting with running against Tim Knopp, then Bend's state representative, that she met Kitzhaber.
His second term as governor had just ended, and his marriage to Sharon Kitzhaber was ending about that time.
Recalls Kitzhaber of first meeting Hayes, “She was contemplating running again for the Legislature. She asked for my advice as someone who had recently left the political fray.”
Kitzhaber calls her “a remark- able Oregonian,” but largely de- clines to discuss their relation- ship.
“We have a long-term committed relationship. It's a good relationship, but it's our relationship, and that's pretty much all I'm willing to say about it,” he said.
Hayes and Kitzhaber soon were friends. In December 2003, they traveled together to Sisters to speak to a group of high school students about political activism.
Meanwhile, Hayes' nonprofit was growing rapidly; in 2007, it took in $437,000, of which $54,167 went to salary for Hayes, the executive director, according to a tax return the group filed with the state.
The group's board, however, decided that becoming a for-profit entity would make it easier to pursue consulting work on green jobs and renewable energy projects.
Its focus also was becoming less about education and more about politics, said Shinderman, who served as the group's president in 2006. That, in fact, is part of why he stepped down, saying those were not his interests.
“It wasn't a good thing or a bad thing, it just was,” he said.
Whatever their differences, he remains a fan of Hayes.
“She is a critical component of what will need to happen both in this community and on the larger scale,” he said. “Among the general population, there are a certain few individuals that have the skills and ability to be true leaders to make things happen, to be agents of change, and Cylvia is one of them.”
The new business, of which Hayes is CEO, took over the nonprofit's name and much of its work.
As a consultant, Hayes has not been afraid to get involved with causes that are opposed by other environmentalists. She helped the Metolian destination resort project with its environmentally sensitive design, and also has worked for the West Butte Wind Power Project. State biologists say the wind project could do irreversible damage to a nearby population of sage grouse, a species that is being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Over the past several years, Hayes and Kitzhaber have merged their respective lives both personally and politically. They travel to speaking engagements together, such as in July on Orcas Island, where Kitzhaber spoke on health care and Hayes discussed the environment.
Hayes worked as a consultant to Oregon Solutions, a nonprofit Kitzhaber helped create; and he is a member with Hayes on the boards of 3EStrategies and a defunct nonprofit that was intended to take over some of its philanthropic work, the Green Economy Institute.
Kitzhaber's consulting work for Cascade Healthcare Community has brought him to Central Oregon even more than he would have otherwise, allowing the couple to frequent the Bend Brewing Company, one of their favorite haunts.
The couple goes fly-fishing together; former Deschutes County Sheriff Les Stiles said they joined him and his wife on the Deschutes above White Horse Rapids to seek native redside trout in the spring.
“I think she hooked more than all of us,” he said.
The question now, in light of Kitzhaber's candidacy, is whether the two can continue their professional pursuits unchanged.
Jim Moore, a Pacific University political science professor, said Hayes can expect greater scrutiny, and will have to make clear that Kitzhaber would play no role in decisions affecting her contracting with the state.
“She's going to have to come up with a very public plan for what she will do if (Kitzhaber) becomes governor,” he said, but added, “it won't be that significant unless one of his opponents makes a big deal out of it.”
Stiles, who is friends with the couple, says he expects Hayes to continue her consulting work. And he says that if Kitzhaber is elected, he won't think of Hayes as a de facto first lady.
“She will chart her own path,” he said. “She's an independent thinker, she's highly competitive, she's very bright, and she's not a passive personality.”
On the other hand, he thinks her closeness to Kitzhaber will be good for the state.
“Whoever steps in after the election is going to have some serious problems on their plate, and it's going to take some serious people to address it,” he said. “I think she would definitely be part of the solution and not sitting passively on the sideline.”
Asked whether she'd consider being a state department head under Kitzhaber, Hayes did not rule it out. Nor did Kitzhaber, saying, “I haven't given any thought” to whom he'd hire for his administration if he wins. “I gotta win the election first,” he said.
Ron Bersin, director of the state Ethics Commission, said state ethics laws only apply to relatives and members of a household. So there would be no law against Kitzhaber giving Hayes a job reporting directly to him.
Hayes, for her part, says she's confident her own work will not be “overshadowed” by Kitzhaber, even if he is elected.
And while his new political pursuits might make her consulting work complicated, she is ready for it.
“I am willing to go down this path with him, despite the fact that it might bring up some challenges and sacrifices, because I think he has the potential to be transformative for the state of Oregon,” she said. “I just have to have faith that the other good work that I am doing is not hampered by this.”