Nick Kristof says his ability to run for Oregon governor this year hinges on his intent.
Despite many years spent in New York and abroad as a New York Times journalist, and his decision to vote in New York in 2020, Kristof doubled down Monday on his argument that he’s always considered himself an Oregon resident. Along with a history of owning property and summering in the state, Kristof’s attorneys say that his vision of Oregon as his home more than qualifies him under the state Constitution’s three-year residency requirement for its governors.
The question is whether state elections officials – and ultimately Oregon courts – will agree.
Kristof’s attempt to win the Democratic nomination has generated buzz, and a lot of money, since the two-time Pulitzer winner started spreading word he was interested. But after Kristof officially filed his candidacy in December, the Secretary of State’s Office said it needed more information.
As OPB reported, the state elections office wrote that it wasn’t clear that Kristof met the three-year requirement based on his voter registration.
“In addition, it has come to our attention that you voted in New York State as recently as 2020,” compliance specialist Lydia Plukchi wrote to Kristof on Dec. 21. She requested the campaign submit documentation by Jan. 3 filling out the picture.
The submission sent to elections officials Monday runs more than 100 pages, including attachments of articles and interviews in which Kristof proclaimed his Oregon bona fides over the years. But at the heart of the document is a 15-page legal argument drafted by Kristof’s attorneys.
That document includes many of the same arguments Kristof’s campaign made last year, in a memo that sought to pre-emptively address questions about Kristof’s qualifications as an Oregon resident.
It recounts his upbringing in Yamhill, and his abiding affinity for the state. It lists his longtime property interests and summer vacations to Oregon. And it concludes that Kristof has been a resident of Oregon at least for the required three years – if not for his entire life.
“Either Mr. Kristof was always an Oregon resident because he always considered it to be his home—as he maintains—or he has been an Oregon resident since 2018, when he began living here more regularly to write his book about Oregon people and issues and to manage the overhaul of his farm,” his lawyers wrote. “Either way, he was an Oregon resident prior to November 2019.”
If state elections officials disagree, Kristof’s attorneys suggest, they risk tacitly approving the racist and exclusionary history of such residency requirements, which they argue had roots in Oregon’s founders not wanting foreigners and people of color to hold power. Kristof’s campaign also says disallowing him from running could be held unconstitutional in federal court, and would deny voters the right to choose the state’s next leader.
“As an outsider to Oregon’s political establishment, Mr. Kristof’s participation in the election for governor provides an important choice for Oregon voters, especially at this time of profound challenges for our state,” the document says. “The decision now before you is whether to afford—or deny—Oregon voters the opportunity to choose.”
As to Kristof’s decision to vote in New York in 2020, his attorneys say it has no bearing on whether he can run in Oregon, since a person can live in more than one place and Kristof has long maintained a residence in Oregon. New York state allows voters with more than one home to choose which residence they will use for voting purposes.
No appellate court has weighed in on the precise meaning of the Oregon Constitutional mandate that the governor must “have been three years next preceding his election, a resident within this State.” Regardless of how state elections officials decide the matter, it’s likely to lead to a legal challenge – and ultimately a ruling that offers more clarity.
Kristof’s arguments about his history in Oregon can cut both ways. As evidence of his residency, Kristof has said that when he purchased a home in New York in 1999, he stated on the deed that he lives in Yamhill.
But Kristof has identified himself as a New York resident, too. When applying with the State of Oregon for rights to use groundwater on his Oregon property in August 2020, records show he used his Scarsdale, New York, address.
An author blurb on Kristof’s 2020 book, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, says that Kristof lives “near New York City.” That’s the same book Kristof’s attorneys say he began writing in 2018, marking a period in which they say he was definitively an Oregon resident.
Kristof has some potentially influential backers to his insistence that he qualifies for the ballot. Last month, three former Oregon secretaries of state – Jeanne Atkins, Bill Bradbury and Keisling – wrote in an op-ed that Kristof’s opinion on where he lives should count.
“When it came to determining candidate residency and related questions, our North Star was a simple one,” they wrote. “Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, a person should be presumed to be a resident of the place or places they consider to be home.”
Kristof added another supporter in his submission to elections officials on Monday. His legal team secured an opinion from retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice R. William Riggs concurring with the arguments his attorneys have been making.
Whether or not Kristof’s candidacy is allowed to proceed will first be up to Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s office, with guidance from the Oregon Department of Justice run by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Both women have deep political ties to a state Democratic establishment that has largely looked askance at Kristof’s candidacy.
Whichever way that decision goes, the matter is expected to land in court. Kristof is likely to challenge an adverse ruling. His rivals for the Democratic nomination, including House Speaker Tina Kotek and State Treasurer Tobias Read, could challenge a ruling allowing him to run.