Lawyers representing former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof plan to argue that not only does Kristof meet the state’s residency requirements to run for Oregon governor, but denying him the chance to run could lead to voter suppression in future Oregon elections.
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan recently rejected Kristof’s gubernatorial bid, arguing he does not meet the constitutional requirement that the governor must be a resident of Oregon for three years preceding the election. Fagan based that decision on Kristof’s history of owning property in New York and voting in that state as recently as 2020.
Kristof is hoping the Oregon Supreme Court will overturn Fagan’s ruling well before the March 17 deadline for candidates to qualify for the May primary ballot.
On Friday, Kristof’s lawyers filed their first brief to the court revealing their legal arguments.
In the brief, Kristof’s lawyers note an Oregon court has never addressed what it means to be a resident of the state.
Kristof’s lawyers argue that he was raised in Yamhill and has maintained a home in Yamhill for his entire life, and that Kristof has described Oregon as his home for decades in both his professional writing and in his personal life. They add that the historical point of having a residency requirement in the Oregon constitution was to exclude those who were unfamiliar with the state, and that Fagan gave “no weight to forty years of published writings in which Kristof” claimed Yamhill was his home.
The brief says this decision violates the constitution because it is overly broad and does not serve to advance the state’s interest in “limiting public office to those who are familiar with the state.” This interpretation by the state’s election office could prove to deprive voters of their choice of candidate now and in future elections, they argue.
“There are many peripatetic Oregonians who, for various reasons, live in more than one place and may prefer candidates who understand the experience of living in multiple places or changing residences often,” the legal document states. “Such Oregonians come from all walks of life: houseless and housing-insecure persons; university students; seasonal migrant workers; servicemembers; snowbirds; the list goes on. These groups are disserved by the Secretary’s interpretation, contravening the spirit of free and equal elections.”
The court will not hear oral arguments. Documents from both the secretary of state’s office and Kristof are due to the court by Jan. 26.
Oregon election officials have stated that to meet the three-year residency requirement for this year’s gubernatorial race, a person must be a resident in Oregon for the entire three-year period starting in November 2019.
“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,” Oregon elections director Deborah Scroggin wrote in a letter to Kristof.
Kristof suggested Fagan based her decision on “politics, not precedent,” and that Fagan has long ties to the state’s Democratic establishment.
Kristof has reported raising far more campaign funds 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.”
OPB politics reporter Dirk VanderHart contributed to this report.