- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

The Oregonian, Feb. 4, calling for Kitzhaber’s resignation

“I’m not going to consider resigning,” said Gov. John Kitzhaber at a disastrous press conference held Friday following revelations about the apparently borderless world of public policy and private gain in which he and fiancée Cylvia Hayes exist. “I was elected by the people of this state to do a job, and I intend to do it.”

No doubt, the governor does intend to do the job Oregonians gave him, which, simply put, is to pursue the interests of his constituents. That intention, however, is no match for an ugly reality of his own making, whose sordid elements keep surfacing with dispiriting regularity, most recently this week thanks to the work of Nick Budnick and Laura Gunderson of The Oregonian/OregonLive. Two people involved in Kitzhaber’s 2010 campaign helped Hayes find paid work with groups interested in Oregon policy, Budnick and Gunderson reported. Both have landed in Kitzhaber’s administration.

More ugliness may surface, but it should be clear by now to Kitzhaber that his credibility has evaporated to such a degree that he can no longer serve effectively as governor. If he wants to serve his constituents he should resign.

To recite every reported instance in which Hayes, ostensibly under Kitzhaber’s watchful eye, has used public resources, including public employee time and her “first lady” title, in pursuit of professional gain would require far more space than we have here and, besides, repeat what most readers already know. Suffice it to say there’s a pattern, and the person who bears the responsibility for allowing it to form and persist is Kitzhaber, who should know better. After all, as he pointed out during Friday’s press conference, he’s been serving in public office on and off since the 1970s.

Consider, instead, what Oregonians have learned during only the last couple of weeks. First, Hayes received a combined $118,000 in 2011 and 2012 through the Washington, D.C.-based Clean Economy Development Center even as she served as an unpaid energy adviser to Kitzhaber. This income is not fully accounted for on tax forms Hayes provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive. Neither has the governor fully accounted for the money in ethics filings.

A big chunk of Hayes’ fellowship money, $75,000, came from the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, a nonprofit that funds clean-energy initiatives such as the low carbon fuel standard. Implementing a low carbon fuel standard is a priority for both Kitzhaber and Democratic leaders in the Legislature. The session’s first public hearing on a bill to that end happened on Monday.

How did Hayes end up with a fellowship funded by an organization with an interest in clean-energy policy in Oregon? A Kitzhaber campaign adviser, Dan Carol, helped arrange the funding following Kitzhaber’s election in 2010, Budnick and Gunderson reported. Carol subsequently landed a position within the Kitzhaber administration. That position, Willamette Week has reported, pays more than $165,000, making Carol Kitzhaber’s highest-paid aide.

Who knew following the trail of “clean energy” money could make you feel so dirty?

Another campaign adviser, Greg Wolf, helped land Hayes a position with the Rural Development Initiatives. The nonprofit, Budnick and Gunderson reported, wanted Hayes to help raise money for a clean economy project - including tens of thousands for which Kitzhaber’s support was needed. Wolf, like Carol, later secured a position in Kitzhaber’s administration.

Is it any wonder Kitzhaber now finds himself stranded in an ethical swamp? To understand the full extent of his predicament, consider his inability to answer one simple question during his press conference Friday: Is Hayes a member of your household? He answered this question in the affirmative on multiple occasions in ethics filings. But on Friday, following the discovery of apparently unreported fellowship income, he said, “I have no idea whether she is ‘legally’ a member of my household.”

The governor has not yet quibbled about the meaning of “is,” but Friday’s evasions were almost Clintonian.

The questions about Kitzhaber’s judgment and competence ask themselves. Is he so oblivious that he had no idea that campaign advisers were helping his girlfriend line up employment marked by ethical red flags? Is he really so clueless that he had no idea how much money Hayes collected through her fellowship, which would explain his apparently incomplete ethics filings? Or, alternatively, did he know and fail to act? Both possibilities are damning, and it’s difficult to imagine alternatives that are not.

Whether through gross inattention or complicity, Kitzhaber has broken faith with Oregonians. His career in Oregon politics is one of great accomplishment, but his past success does not excuse the mess he has made of the office with which Oregonians entrusted him. He is now less a governor than a source of unending distraction. He can no longer lead Oregon effectively and should resign. His constituents deserve better.


Statesman Journal, Feb. 7, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

The damning allegations surrounding Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee create a 21st-century test for Oregon government: Did Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes wrongly use their government roles for personal gain?

The state ethics commission is scheduled to take up the allegations next month, and Oregonians would be wise to delay judgment until then. Some people have called for Kitzhaber to resign; however, it would be wrong for him to do so and potentially leave the allegations unresolved.

Should Oregonians eventually decide that the governor is unfit to finish his fourth term, they could vote to recall him. Under the Oregon Constitution, Secretary of State Kate Brown would become governor. Brown’s office clarified late Friday that recall petitions cannot be filed against a governor until he’s been in office for six months - six months from when Kitzhaber was inaugurated Jan. 12.

Key officials speak out

Oregon is a small state, where political and private entanglements are not unusual. Yet the uproar surrounding the public-private roles of Kitzhaber and Hayes, whom he designated as “first lady,” has grown so big that state Senate President Peter Courtney, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum felt compelled to issue public statements last week.

The allegations undoubtedly weaken Kitzhaber’s influence, but they don’t undermine the work of the 2015 Legislature. Legislative leaders continue to have policy meetings with Kitzhaber. The only occasional inconvenience to legislators might be the packs of reporters tromping through the Capitol halls, seeking new angles for their latest Hayes-Kitzhaber stories.

As an illustration of Oregon’s interconnections, it is worth noting that Attorney General Rosenblum is married to the publisher of Willamette Week, which has been highly critical of Hayes and Kitzhaber’s actions.

Brown, Rosenblum, Courtney and Kotek are Democrats, as is Kitzhaber. Instead of fanning the flames, Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli have largely stayed on the sidelines, allowing the Kitzhaber administration to self-implode, if it’s going to.

Hayes’ role challenges status quo

From city halls to the statehouse to the U.S. Capitol, Oregon has had its share of politicians with questionable ethics. However, the Kitzhaber-Hayes controversy appears unique. Unless a similar situation occurred in the early days of Oregon history, Kitzhaber and his fiancee apparently are the first unmarried partners to serve the state as governor and first lady.

Oregon’s ethics laws were not written under that scenario. This situation should cause them to be re-examined.

First ladies, whether in Oregon or the White House, traditionally stayed in the background or handled benign causes, generally family-related ones. But society has evolved, and that should be an outdated stereotype. Oregon, like America, must come to grips with the rights of the first lady - or first man - to continue her or his professional life.

Kitzhaber describes Hayes as a strong, modern woman, and his administration developed guidelines to avoid conflicts between her being first lady and her private work as an environmental consultant. Were those guidelines adequate? Did Hayes, Kitzhaber and his staff members follow them? Oregonians likely won’t have those answers until the ethics commission acts.

As was well-documented during the gubernatorial campaign last fall, Hayes displayed questionable judgment in the past. She and Kitzhaber have been dogged for years by questions regarding her relationships with state agencies. Most disturbing is the allegation that Hayes failed to report some income on her income tax returns. Hayes has a duty to publicly and promptly address that situation.

Connections not unusual

Yet Oregonians also must recognize that, whether for good or ill, interconnections commonly exist among political, professional and personal roles.

Legislators hire fiancees, spouses or other family members as their legislative aides. Current legislators or past officials are hired by colleges, community colleges, nonprofits and businesses because of their connections. After politicians are elected, they often hire their campaign workers for government positions.

Those realities do not excuse any missteps by Hayes or Kitzhaber, whether intentional or inadvertent. But it would be wrong for Oregon to excoriate the first couple for behaviors that were deemed acceptable for others.


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Feb. 8, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

The governor was on the phone, and he was not happy. John Kitzhaber had read a Jan. 24 Register-Guard editorial calling for a swift, energetic and independent investigation of allegations of influence peddling by his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, and said that the Oregon Government Ethics Commission was already conducting such an investigation. He repeated what he’s been saying since before winning re-election to an unprecedented fourth term last November: Hayes will have no role in his administration, and he’ll cooperate in efforts to lay all questions to rest.

It’s understandable that Kitzhaber would read the editorial as an attack, but its real message, reinforced by his response, was that a defensive posture is not serving him well. It’s doing Oregonians no good either, because they will not benefit from having a weakened and distracted governor.

The past two weeks have borne that out. The EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group reported that Hayes had received $118,000 in consulting fees in 2011 and 2012 while working in the governor’s office, in addition to payments that had been disclosed earlier. The newly reported income did not appear on tax forms Hayes had provided to other media outlets.

The governor said in a Jan. 30 news conference that he and Hayes file separate tax returns, but on state disclosure forms the governor has indicated that Hayes is a member of his household, raising the possibility of tax law violations from which Kitzhaber derived a financial benefit. Hayes was not present to clarify the situation - she was attending a conference in Berlin. The parallels between Oregon and Virginia, where a federal court convicted Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, last year on corruption charges, are disturbing: In both cases, governors and members of their households benefited financially from their positions of power or their proximity to it.

Soon after the press conference, The (Portland) Oregonian called for Kitzhaber’s resignation. Willamette Week quoted former Democratic Gov. Barbara Roberts as saying, “I can’t recall a governor of either party in this state who has put the integrity of the office at this kind of risk.” Former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, former Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer and Treasurer Ted Wheeler offered critical comments of their own.

Meanwhile, the Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet on March 13, five weeks from now - not to rule on whether Kitzhaber or Hayes committed violations of any kind, but to vote on whether to begin an investigation in response to complaints against the governor that were filed last year.

Kitzhaber can’t afford another five weeks like the last two, and he can’t afford however many weeks or months it will take for the commission to reach some determination. If the commission opens an investigation, and if it finds violations, it lacks the authority to do anything more than impose civil fines. Whatever the commission does, it is sure to be suspected of protecting Kitzhaber, because its members are appointed by the governor.

That’s why the editorial that led Kitzhaber to pick up the phone urged him to call for a separate investigation by someone with the independence to follow the evidence wherever it leads, the power to file criminal charges if warranted, and the credibility to make conclusions that would stand up in an increasingly skeptical court of public opinion.

One obvious candidate for such a role would be Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who has the resources of the state’s biggest law firm at her disposal and has a legal mandate to investigate cases of public corruption. Republicans in the Legislature are calling on Rosenblum to get involved. The attorney general does not prosecute crimes, but could present evidence to the district attorney of the county in which any crimes are believed to have occurred.

Rosenblum has shown little interest in opening an investigation, though on Friday she labeled the allegations against the governor “very serious - and troubling.” There’s also the possibility of a conflict: The attorney general is the state’s lawyer, and in effect represents Kitzhaber. And if an attorney general’s investigation were to lead nowhere, Rosenblum might face a problem of credibility similar to the one that could confront the Ethics Commission, and find herself suspected of protecting a fellow Democrat.

Kitzhaber has the power to appoint a special prosecutor, as demanded by his Republican opponent, Rep. Dennis Richardson, during last fall’s campaign. Kitzhaber would be better off now if he had agreed to the demand. It’s not too late - indeed, such an appointment may be the only way the governor can hope to regain public confidence.

Voters elected Kitzhaber to a four-year term that began just last month, and in the absence of formal charges or findings of wrongdoing, any action to invalidate that choice would be premature at best. But both the governor and his constituents need to settle all the troubling questions swirling around the Capitol, and it needs to be done quickly, definitively and convincingly. Kitzhaber should not be the last person in Oregon to realize that.


(Medford) Mail Tribune, Feb. 8, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

Gov. John Kitzhaber has been in the news even more than usual of late, and not in a good way. New revelations continue to emerge about the role of his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, in the governor’s administration and the connections between her consulting work and state energy policy.

Last week, Kitzhaber faced questions about a fellowship with the Washington, D.C.-based Clean Economy Development Center that paid Hayes a total of $118,000 during Kitzhaber’s last term, while she was serving as an unpaid energy adviser to the governor. The Oregonian also has reported that Hayes may not have paid income tax on that money, according to tax forms she provided to the newspaper.

Then, new reports surfaced that one of Kitzhaber’s 2010 campaign advisers helped line up the funding for that fellowship after the governor was elected, and shortly thereafter joined the administration. A second campaign adviser helped get Hayes a job with Rural Development Initiatives, working with the nonprofit to raise funds for a clean energy project - work that required the governor’s support. That adviser also now works in Kitzhaber’s administration.

All this, combined with earlier revelations that Hayes may have used her unofficial title as first lady of Oregon to advance her consulting career in the clean energy field while advising the governor on energy policy, has convinced The Oregonian’s editorial board to call for Kitzhaber’s resignation. While a time may come when the governor must step down, that time is not yet.

The too-cozy relationships between clean-energy advocates, Hayes and the governor’s office are certainly cause for concern. They may have violated ethics laws, although it certainly doesn’t appear that anything Hayes or her various employers did caused Kitzhaber to change his views on clean energy issues; he has been a champion of those causes since long before he met Hayes.

At the very least, the mess raises questions about Kitzhaber’s judgment regarding Hayes and the appearance of conflicts of interest.

What’s important here is to let the formal investigations already under way run their course. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is investigating Hayes’ role in the governor’s administration. Willamette Week last month cited sources saying the FBI had begun an investigation, although the agency has not confirmed that. On Thursday, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said the allegations involving Kitzhaber and Hayes were “very serious - and troubling,” and said her office was looking into launching its own investigation.

That should happen, sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have said lawmakers who started the 2015 session last week should focus on doing their jobs. That’s good advice.

If it turns out Kitzhaber knowingly violated ethics laws, he should resign. But until that is determined, he is still the elected governor of the state, and he has a job to do, too.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, Feb. 9, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

If Gov. John Kitzhaber thought that his oddball press conference on Jan. 30 would douse the controversy surrounding Cylvia Hayes, the state’s first lady, well, let’s just say mission not accomplished.

In fact, the press conference likely made matters worse - and events in the week following didn’t help.

If you missed the headlines after the press conference, Kitzhaber said that Hayes - who’s enmeshed in conflict-of-interest allegations regarding her consulting work - would play no future role in his administration, regardless of the results of a review into the case by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

But then the governor seemed befuddled at times by reporters’ questions and urged them to direct their questions to Hayes herself, who hasn’t exactly been forthcoming. Hayes was not at the press conference; she was in Europe, apparently to attend a conference on the so-called Gross National Happiness index. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it was the subject of a much-maligned trip Kitzhaber and Hayes took to Bhutan during the governor’s third term. (Kitzhaber and Hayes are engaged; the governor designated her as first lady in 2011.)

The conflict-of-interest charges swirling around Hayes took another turn recently, when she confirmed she had collected $118,000 in payments from an out-of-state clean-energy group while she was advising Kitzhaber on energy policy. Hayes did not report that income on her tax returns.

Kitzhaber’s office hasn’t been exactly a model of transparency itself, ducking or dragging its feet on reporters’ requests for records.

Late last week, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum called the allegation “very serious - and troubling.” Rosenblum (a Democrat, like Kitzhaber) said her office “is considering all of our legal options to ensure that we are best serving the state.”

While it is true that the attorney general’s office has limited authority to investigate and bring criminal charges, this is nevertheless the first indication from Rosenblum that her office might intervene in the matter.

In the meantime, The Oregonian (which last week editorially called for Kitzhaber’s resignation) reported on Friday that emails show that Hayes directed state employees to implement a new policy (the so-called Genuine Progress Initiative, an alternative economic measure) during the same time she was being paid by an advocacy group to promote it.

The Government Ethics Commission is reviewing the complaints about Hayes. It’s expected to announce in March whether it will proceed with a full investigation.

It’s conceivable that the commission could decide that Hayes is neither a public official nor an official member of the governor’s household. The conclusion then would be that the matter is beyond its jurisdiction. Case closed.

But that outcome would satisfy few and benefit no one. The commission should push ahead with a full investigation. Kitzhaber and Hayes should cooperate fully. Otherwise, the smoke from these particular fires certainly will linger until the end of Kitzhaber’s fourth term.


Klamath Falls Herald and News, Feb. 5, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

Has John Kitzhaber enough credibility left to be an effective governor?

The issue has to be rolling through the minds of many Oregonians, as step by step the questions about Cylvia Hayes, Oregon’s “first lady,” keep growing without much in the way of answers and what “answers” are presented raise even more questions about possible comingling of state business with Hayes’ private consulting service and the use of state employees.

Questions about various parts of Hayes’ life and professional practices have been going on for many months. It probably wasn’t too hard to cut her some slack for her sham marriage to an Ethiopian immigrant in 1997 in exchange for $5,000 so that he could get a green card. People do make mistakes, especially when they need money, and that was 17 years prior to last year’s governor’s re-election campaign, and 12 years after they were divorced.

But other things followed and the worst - because it involved the governor and her influence on him, his policies and state government - were issues arising from her consulting business, which centered on the use of green energy. Kitzhaber has made green energy a focal point of his administrations and campaigns.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is investigating the matter. The commission is a seven-member body established in 1974 to enforce government ethics laws. It’s not known when it will reach a decision.

Meanwhile, Kitzhaber drifts into the lameduck part of his last shift of his four terms as governor, perhaps a bit earlier than normal. His fellow Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, are pushing their key programs fast.

Since he still has the power to veto or approve new laws, Kitzhaber is still a power in Salem. And, so far, neither Hayes nor anybody else has been charged with a crime. It’s hard to believe, though, that Kitzhaber can operate with the moral force that a good governor needs.


The (Bend) Bulletin, Feb. 3, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, have brought disgrace to the governor’s office.

Kitzhaber has been a fine politician. Oregonians would not have re-elected him for a fourth time and we would not have endorsed him if he couldn’t lead.

His legacy will include his reforms to state prisons, education and perhaps public pensions. Even with the fantastic flop that was Cover Oregon, he has pushed the state elsewhere into experiments with providing care to Medicaid patients that we hope will work.

But all of the compliments Kitzhaber is owed do not nullify the ethical and legal smog of Hayes’ policy and political work.

Kitzhaber came out Friday to meet reporters and declare Hayes will play no policy or political role in his administration. It’s long overdue. Does anyone seriously believe her influence will end?

The news conference was a disheartening spectacle that brought no comfort. He couldn’t or wouldn’t answer some questions. He responded to the serious charges about his disclosures on state ethics reforms with legalistic jitterbugs. His answers to more questions about Hayes’ tax filings was to tell reporters: Ask Hayes. Reporters have tried and get no response.

Common sense should have told a politician of Kitzhaber’s experience that something was acutely wrong. The state’s ethics laws are supposed to restrict the choices, decisions and actions of public officials. The cornerstone of the ethics laws is to prevent people from using their positions “to obtain financial benefits for themselves, relatives or people they are associated with through opportunities that would not otherwise be available but for the position or office held.”

What do Oregonians learn about ethics from the governor?

An attorney could construct an argument that Hayes is not a public official, or somehow Kitzhaber and Hayes did enough because the rules aren’t clear enough. But what Kitzhaber and Hayes have succeeded in doing is reinforcing the worst of what people fear about politicians - that they think the rules don’t apply to them.


(Pendleton) East Oregonian, Feb. 2, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

At his Friday press conference, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said his fiancee Cylvia Hayes will have no policy role during the remainder of his fourth term. Kitzhaber was forced into that declaration by news reports generated by Hillary Borrud in the Salem bureau of the EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.

While it was useful to have the governor clarify where Hayes stands in the Kitzhaber administration, the question remains: Exactly what policies did she influence during his third term - and who exactly was she working for? The Register-Guard of Eugene has asked the “question of how many shoes were still waiting to drop.”

Especially when it comes to environmental policies, which were Hayes’ “passion,” it’s hard to look at any decision or position and not wonder who was making the wheels turn, and which wheels were getting greased. Coal exports in our corner of the state, gillnet fishing at the mouth of the Columbia, low-carbon fuel standards - the stink of ethics violations are all over them now.

And that’s exactly what it is. People are quick to judge actions by their outcome, and that’s why the outrage over the First Lady’s shady employment history has been muted. Those who are pleased with the enviro-friendly direction this administration has taken us have sort of shrugged off the $118,000 in untaxed income Hayes took from the Clean Economy Development Center in 2011 and 2012.

And it’s true, if the governor had never met Hayes he may have made the exact same decisions. But the failure of the administration to take these violations seriously is the big problem. They point, again, to a lack of interest in serving Oregon.

The essence of Gov. Kitzhaber’s Cylvia Hayes problem was described succinctly by Brent Walth, Gov. Tom McCall’s biographer and managing editor of Willamette Week, during a talk last November to Columbia Forum in Astoria. Said Walth: “I didn’t think we’d ever see, in my life, the office put up for sale, but that’s exactly what we’ve seen.”

The tragedy of John Kitzhaber stems from a mistake as old as Shakespeare. Kitzhaber has stayed too long. All politicians and celebrities nurture their myths. The reason that John Kitzhaber is having such a hard time reckoning with the damage that Cylvia Hayes has done him is that the John Kitzhaber of myth (the first and second term Kitzhaber) was never this foolish.


The Dalles Chronicle, Feb. 7, on Kitzhaber’s troubles

There are times when we get it right - and wish we hadn’t.

The credibility problems now swirling around Gov. John Kitzhaber are one of those occasions.

The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper that endorsed Kitzhaber just weeks ago, and in three other elections, took the rare stand this week of calling for his resignation.

The reason for that demand is the distraction caused by continuing ethical questions involving the role of Kitzhaber’s fiancée Cylvia Hayes, in government policy-making.

The Chronicle’s seven-member editorial board saw the growing scandal as one reason not to support Kitzhaber’s re-election to a historical fourth term.

Last fall, we came to the unanimous decision that Kitzhaber’s toxic relationship with Hayes was not a good deal for Oregon.

There have been multiple reports that Hayes accepted compensation as a consultant on energy and economic development while also serving as an unpaid advisor to the governor on those issues.

Although the problems with Hayes were just surfacing in October, we felt the scandal was likely to interfere in Kitzhaber’s ability to make sound decisions involving 3.9 million Oregonians.

After reviewing the failure of the Cover Oregon website at the loss of $200 million to taxpayers, and Kitzhaber’s other questionable judgment, we arrived at the conclusion that citizens were not better off since his election to a third term in 2010.

It seems that the majority of Wasco County voters felt the same way. Dennis Richardson, the Republican challenger of Kitzhaber, scored 49.83 percent of the vote compared to the incumbent’s 43.29 percent.

With that said, we don’t want to see the Oregonian and other newspapers jump on the bandwagon to drive Kitzhaber out of office. None of us have the facts yet. Neither the governor nor Hayes, who he calls the “first lady” have been charged with wrongdoing.

If it becomes clear that Kitzhaber was complicit in allowing his office to be used for the gain of the woman he loves, it will be time for a decision about his fitness to serve.

It is important to remember that Kitzhaber was put in Mahonia Hall by a majority of voters statewide.?

That he now operates with less credibility is his yoke to bear. There are consequences for bad choices and only time will reveal how destructive his relationship with Hayes really is. It should be a wakeup call to Kitzhaber that the Oregonian has turned against him so completely. Even as he staunchly defends Hayes, it is a good sign that he appears to be taking steps to distance her from his office.

Kitzhaber needs to keep in mind that this is his final term, the one that sets his legacy -and he still has time to turn things around.

He was re-elected after eight years in office because of his progressive vision. He has the opportunity not to leave in disgrace if he makes the right choices.

Either way, the clock is now ticking on his administration.

The Oregonian has launched a campaign that could gather enough momentum to take him down, or Kitzhaber could find a way to regain trust.

We can’t predict the outcome of this mess - we just wish it hadn’t happened in the first place.

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