Nick Kristof asks Oregon Supreme Court to salvage his ambitions for governor

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Jan. 7, 2022 9:37 p.m.

The Democratic candidate is petitioning the state’s high court to quickly force elections officials to reverse their decision that he doesn’t meet the three-year residency requirement.

Nick Kristof speaks with media, answering questions about his campaign for Oregon governor, Oct. 27, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church of Portland.

Nick Kristof speaks with media, answering questions about his campaign for Oregon governor, Oct. 27, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church of Portland.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

A day after Oregon elections officials ruled he does not qualify to run for governor, former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof sought a second opinion.


Kristof filed a petition with the Oregon Supreme Court on Friday, asking justices to quickly overturn Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s determination he does not meet the state Constitution’s three-year residency requirement for governor.

“In the absence of this Court’s intervention, voters will be marginalized, and the gubernatorial race will be irreversibly altered by a lone government official applying novel and untested legal reasoning,” Kristof’s attorneys wrote.

While such a matter would typically first work its way up through the court system, beginning at the circuit level, Kristof argued Oregon’s high court should put an end to questions about his residency soon — well before a March 17 deadline for candidates to qualify for the May primary ballot.

“It is imperative that Kristof’s eligibility be decided well before then,” his lawyers wrote. “The gubernatorial campaign is well underway, for Kristof and others. Kristof cannot effectively do the work of a candidate for office under the cloud created by the Secretary of State’s decision.”

If justices do not find reason to force Fagan to overturn her decision, Kristof requested that she be forced to explain in court why she would not approve his candidacy.


The court’s response to the filing will determine whether Kristof is the surging Democratic contender he had been before Thursday’s ruling or a political flash in the pan who quit his high-profile job in journalism for a campaign that didn’t pass legal muster. It will also likely be the first time the constitutional residency requirement for Oregon governors has received scrutiny by a state court.

Kristof’s arguments in the petition and a concurrent memo filed with the court mirror arguments his attorneys have been making for months: The Pulitzer Prize-winner grew up in Yamhill, has long maintained property and summered there, and has said he always considered Oregon to be his home.

But Kristof has spent much of his life outside the state, living in New York and abroad to pursue his profession. Particularly damning to the candidate’s case in elections officials’ eyes: He voted as a New York resident in November 2020, and possessed a New York driver’s license the same year.

“In order to satisfy the three-year residency requirement, you must have been a resident in Oregon for the entire three-year period beginning in November 2019,” Oregon elections director Deborah Scroggin wrote in a letter to Kristof on Thursday. “But the objective facts, including your decision to vote in New York, convincingly suggest that you resided in New York at least from November 2019 to December 2020.”

Fagan was more biting in comments to reporters Thursday, saying Kristof’s arguments that he’s always considered himself an Oregonian “are simply dwarfed by the mountains of objective evidence that until recently he considered himself a New York resident.”

Kristof fired back, suggesting Fagan — who has deep ties to the state’s Democratic establishment and labor unions considered likely to support another Democrat — had based her decision in “politics, not precedent.”

“I do believe there is an entrenched political class in Oregon that has found it threatening that I have raised more money than my Democratic rivals,” he told reporters, adding that he believes the law is on his side.

Kristof has reported raising nearly $2.5 million, far more than his highest profile Democratic rivals, House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read.

While he’s able to continue fundraising as he mounts a challenge, Kristof argues in the legal filings that he was a frontrunner in the race prior to Fagan’s decision, but that the secretary “may have predetermined the outcome of the primary election — or at least put a thumb firmly on the scale — even if this Court reverses her decision.”