Cylvia Hayes is "ashamed and embarrassed" to have accepted $5,000 in 1997 to marry an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant in need of a green card, Oregon's first lady-to-be said during a tearful confession, admitting she kept the illegal union a secret from her fiance, Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.
"I deeply regret not being right up front about the fact that I had made a serious mistake," Hayes said during a press conference Friday in Portland. "I owe you all an apology.
"...It was wrong then and it is wrong now," she went on. "And I am here today to accept the consequences, some of which will be life-changing."
Hayes, who's not been coy about her prior destitution, explained that she was "associating with the wrong people" while struggling to muster funds for college when the opportunity for some cash came along. She was 29 at the time.
"It was a marriage of convenience," Hayes said. "He needed help and I needed financial support."
Hayes said she met the man just a handful of times and hasn't had any contact with him since their divorce in 2002. She only told Kitzhaber about the sham arrangement when a Portland newspaper came knocking with questions.
Kitzhaber was "stunned and he was hurt" when he found out, but offered his support in a "beautiful, loving way," Hayes said. She noted that she had asked him not to accompany her to the news conference because she can't yet look at him without crying.
"[He] deserved to know the history of the person he is forming a relationship with," she said. "That fact, that I did not disclose this to him, meant that he has learned about this in the most public and unpleasant way. This is my greatest sorrow in this difficult situation."
Though they just announced their engagement in August, Kitzhaber has routinely referred to Hayes as the Beaver State's "first lady." A private energy consultant herself, Hayes has been active in helping to develop Kitzhaber's energy and environmental policy platforms - but said Friday she'll begin to distance herself from campaign duties.
With the benefit of home field advantage in a blue state, Kitzhaber will likely enjoy an easy reelection next month. Recent polls have him up nine points against his Republican challenger, state Rep. Dennis Richardson.