The president toasts some pretty special people...
Below is a breathtaking piece that ran on Monday, March 21, in The Oregonian. It was presented by staffer Steve Duin, who was provided with a letter Oregon's "first lady," Cylvia Hayes, wrote about her adventures in Washington, D.C. I'm also reprinting it - without permission, given that he didn't write Ms. Hayes' letter - in its entirety.
Keep in mind these are the people we elect to represent and serve us (and who bring their significant others along for the ride and document it for us). Ms. Hayes' "journal" gives us a rare glimpse into the world we cannot hope to understand...only pay for.
With that, I give you The Oregonian's, "Behind the scenes with John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes at the White House."
By Steve Duin, The Oregonian
Over the weekend, Cylvia Hayes -- Oregon's "first lady" -- sent out an e-mail to a large number of friends and associates, detailing her adventures in February at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.
It's pretty entertaining. I've edited it, but only briefly, for length:
I have finally made time to write up my experiences in Washington DC and the National Governors Association. The stories are below ...
The first significant event happened at the Airport, before we even left Oregon – I call it “airport whisking”. Once we checked our bags, John and I were escorted by the Dignitary Protection Unit (DPU) guards right around airport security. A TSA man looked at our passports and sent us on our way. No lines, no inspections, no taking off shoes and jackets, no pulling laptops out of their cases. I had already put all of my little gels and lotions into the customary plastic sandwich bag. As we whisked through, I sheepishly tucked them down into my attaché. Rookie mistake. Who knew? (I fear this one thing, this whisking through airports, may spoil me beyond anything else).
The NGA meeting took place mostly at the Marriot [sic] Hotel in downtown DC ... The first session was a plenary with all the Governors seated around a large square table and lots of press ... Dr. Michael Porter of the Harvard School of Business was the keynote. I had heard him before when he spoke to the Oregon Business Summit and declared that the rest of the nation was watching to see if Oregon was going to be able to really make sustainability the big economic opportunity many thought it could be. He had said that if he did so, it would be “epic” for our state and region ...
Just as the Q&A session started a fire alarm went off. Unbelievably, we were all told to evacuate the building. John and I got as far as the top of the escalator before the announcement was made that everything was fine and we could return. Now to get the full gist of this you have to picture all the elected officials and staff and hundreds of security guards. Each Governor has their DPU detail (some bring as many as ten!). On top of this there is a DC detail contingent and the hotel security. I believe there are several times more guards than dignitaries at this event. Later that day, one of our two DPU guys admitted they couldn’t find us when we came out during the fire alarm. John quipped, “Don’t worry about it -- our biggest danger was getting trampled by the hordes of security guys in dark suits.” Our DPU man grinned and I laughed out loud.
The first event of the Spouses Program was a bus trip to the Walter Reid Medical Center. We were all hustled onto a big, plush touring bus and then a motorcade led us away from the hotel. This was my very first motorcade and, as it turned out, was not quite what I expected. Shortly after we took off, the bus developed some sort of transmission problem and slowed to a lurching crawl. There we were, in all the puff of importance and urgency, with traffic lights being shut down and cars forced to stop to let us pass, in a vehicle that I literally could have outrun on foot! Certainly took the sense of self-importance down a peg – or two.
That afternoon, back at the hotel, we had our first actual spouses session. I had realized the night before that my name had not been listed in the Spouses Program packet and in the First Ladies and Assistants contact information directory, Oregon and New York had been listed as NA (No-Applicable) since we were unmarried partners or the governors of those two states. I had hoped Sarah Lee of New York would be there so that we could compare notes, but Governor Coumo did not attend. I had no idea how the First Ladies (and two First Gentlemen) would react to me.
As an ice-breaker they asked a “veteran” First Spouse to interview a newbie and vice versa and then introduce one another. Carla Markell, from Delaware, was seated beside me and she and I had already connected a bit during the Walter Reid event so we interviewed one another. She told me that her first instinct following her husband’s election was to get a job far and stay away from it all. But over the first few months she realized she could do a lot of good work in her role as First Lady, especially since it is an unpaid, volunteer position. When she interviewed me, among many other things, I told her about the NGA contact materials and that I considered NA to stand for “Nuptually Agnostic”. She laughed and made a note.
When she started to introduce me she said, “This is Cylvia Hayes, from Oregon, the uh, First … uh, Governor’s uh … Significant …uh, partner…” I jumped in and said, “I’m complicated and my title is evolving.” Everybody laughed. I realized at that moment that was probably the first unmarried partner ever to attend an NGA event in the First Lady role. She went on to mention my professional background and political involvement and then she whispered to me, “Can I tell them about the NA thing?” I said, “oh sure, why not?” (To myself I was thinking, “Uh oh. Some of these very prim and proper wives may not like this very much.”). She pointed to the First Spouses contact directory and announced that I interpreted NA to mean “Nuptually Agnostic”. The room roared in laughter. From that point forward nearly everyone was warm and welcoming to me.The entire spouses program was interesting and valuable. We learned about several of the initiatives veteran First Ladies (and Gentlemen) were working on. We met with foundations eager to fund projects that First Spouses were driving. (I am already in the pipeline working to get some of that money into Oregon).
Our visit to the State Department was terrific both for the program and the surrounds ... Marcee Craighall, the Director of Rooms of Diplomacy, told us of the endless protocol details that go into hosting foreign dignitaries. Careful attention is given to the colors the President, First Lady and staff wear, seating arrangements, dietary considerations, how to bring something from the visitors home nation into the gathering, and on and on. When she started talking about how we could use many of those same strategies when planning events at our Governors’ residences I had a moment of mild panic. I thought, “Good Lord, who has time for all of that? Do these other women do that? For Pete’s sake this part alone could be a full time job!” Then I calmed down and realized I didn’t have to go overboard but by incorporating a few of these techniques, I could make events at Mahonia Hall more effective and pleasant. I was further relieved to learn that the White House protocol team is available to help us with these issues ...
Of course, along with the tours, educational sessions, and motorcade escapades, there was the black-tie dinner at the White House. As you know from my previous post, I had hyped myself up pretty high for this event. I am delighted to report that it exceeded even those high expectations. I felt like a true fashionista in the long, silky gown. John was very handsome in his tuxedo (that’s right, no jeans for this affair J). He treated me like a princess and made sure that the entire evening was all about my experience. Very sweet.
We entered the White House East Wing, greeted by marines in formal dress uniforms. The Governors and First Ladies and Gentlemen mingled and sipped excellent champagne. We soaked up the beautiful artwork and furnishings in the elegant parlor rooms. Then we were moved into a receiving line to meet the President and First Lady. I had already met President Obama a couple of times so I was most interested in meeting Michelle. John and I were escorted in. The President smiled and took my hand in his hands and said “Very nice to see you again.” (how cool is that?). And then there was Michelle. That night she had her heels on and she was a good two inches taller than Barack. I mean she is of impressive stature. And even with all of that, she was just as warm and approachable as her husband. She took my hand and said, “You look so beautiful.” I said, “Thank you! I just want to say that you are doing yourself, and our nation, proud.” (That was probably a cheeky thing to say but giving her a high five and telling her to keep kicking butt seemed out of the question).
To my delight the Obamas have changed the rules and Governors and spouses now get to sit next to one another during dinner. I was intrigued that Governor Jindal was seated immediately to my right. I told him about my work in clean energy and my mission to the Gulf Coast to bear witness to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. To my surprise, he was genuinely interested in my work, and even appreciative of my interest in the Gulf Coast. We had a great conversation all through dinner about the spill, his frustrations with BP, the need to move beyond fossil fuel, and the difficulty of those issues in a place like Louisiana, where the economy is so dependent on oil extraction. To John’s left was Gene Sperling, economic advisor to the President. We had an interesting conversation about clean energy, climate change, health care costs and the growing crisis of Medicare and Medicaid entitlements. I had a great time – interesting conversation and a phenomenal meal comprised of many tasty small courses paired with lovely wines.
At that point, the evening had already been everything I’d hoped it would be and I had no idea there was more to come. The President stood and asked us all to move out of the dining room and toward the other end of the reception area. We were ushered into a lovely, intimate theater. Several musicians came in and started playing some jazzy, bluesy rock beats. Then, once we were all seated, the President stood and asked us to welcome Gladys Knight! She entered through the back of the room, walked right beside John’s chair, and joined the Pips on-stage. (I hadn’t even known they were the Pips). She put on an amazing performance. Several times I just looked around at the whole scene and said to myself, “Is this really my life? Really? Incredible.”
When we arrived back at the Marriot, it was late and I was bundled up in my black wool coat. But at the door, I told John I had to exercise the gown. He understood immediately and removed my coat and held out his arm. As we strolled through the lobby in tux and designer gown, shamelessly turning heads, knowing we had just dined with the President and First Lady, I reminded myself of Julia Roberts in the Pretty Woman hotel lobby scene (minus the part about being a prostitute of course J). A truly amazing, special evening.
Even now writing about these events, I find myself smiling and feeling very blessed. Thanks for being interested in these stories. We still haven’t received our photos from the White House or State Department but I have attached a couple of photos of the gown and the tuxedo-wearing Governor.
The guv and his lady...