Nick Kristof speaks with media, answering questions about his campaign for Oregon governor, Oct. 27, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church of Portland. Kristof hopes the Oregon Supreme Court will overturn the decision of the state Secretary of State so he can run for Oregon's highest elected office. He aims to qualify for the upcoming primary ballot.

Nick Kristof speaks with media, answering questions about his campaign for Oregon governor, Oct. 27, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church of Portland. Kristof hopes the Oregon Supreme Court will overturn the decision of the state Secretary of State so he can run for Oregon's highest elected office. He aims to qualify for the upcoming primary ballot.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

In their final argument to the Oregon Supreme Court, lawyers for former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof argued Secretary of State Shemia Fagan envisioned a “world simpler than it is” when she disqualified Kristof from running for governor.

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“People’s domestic lives and relationships to home are complicated,” Kristof’s lawyers wrote in a brief filed Wednesday. “Consider these examples. A teenager lives with dad during the week and mom on weekends. A fishing-boat captain lives in Alaska from March through October and otherwise in Oregon; she has houses in both places … A family experiencing housing-insecurity moves between apartments and motels; their ‘permanent address’ is a grandparent’s home.”

“Where do these people receive mail? Pay taxes? Vote? Hold driver’s licenses? Send kids to school? Invariably, these supposed (indicators) of residency will point in different directions.”

The Oregon Supreme Court is expected to determine soon whether Kristof meets the state’s three-year residency requirement to seek the governor’s office and can appear on the May primary ballot.

Earlier this month, Fagan rejected Kristof’s gubernatorial bid, basing her decision on his history of owning property in New York and voting in that state as recently as 2020, among other factors.

Kristof’s lawyers have argued he was raised in Yamhill and maintained a home there his entire life, and that he has described Oregon as his home for decades in both his professional writing and in his personal life. In legal filings, they added that the historical point of having a residency requirement in the Oregon constitution was to exclude people unfamiliar with the state, and that Fagan gave “no weight to forty years of published writings in which Kristof” claimed Yamhill as his home.

This week, Kristof, his allies, and those who believe he does not meet the state’s three-year residency requirement to run for governor, made their final cases in court filings.

Arguments for Kristof

On Kristof’s side were two former Oregon Secretaries of State – Bill Bradbury and Jeanne Atkins.

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A candidate for governor, the two former secretaries wrote in a friend of the court briefing, is required to live in Oregon “but not only here, for three years before the election. They are permitted to live elsewhere too – to have another home, another residence – at the same time. Dual residency in another state does not cost them eligibility for office in Oregon.”

Atkins and Bradbury reiterated some of Kristof’s own arguments about his ties to the state. Kristof, who grew up on a sheep farm in Yamhill, has said he’s always considered himself an Oregon resident despite traveling the world as a journalist and owning a home in New York.

The two former Democratic secretaries of state also echoed Kristof’s contention that an overly strict view of a candidate’s proof of eligibility could disenfranchise voters and violate their constitutional rights. They say that Kristof’s emotional ties to the state are, indeed, a valid factor in the residency question.

“Those voters who think that residency is important and requires connections to the state that the candidate might lack can express that view by voting for someone else,” Atkins and Bradbury wrote.

It is important, they noted, that collectively the people get the governor the majority of them wants. Oregon has been a state that at times “restricted access to the polls and to elected office, especially for people of color, sometimes through durational residency requirements. They are mindful of that shameful history.”

Angela Addae, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, and David Fidanque, former executive director of the Oregon ACLU, and the Leaven Community Land and Housing Coalition also wrote to the court arguing for inclusivity. While the brief doesn’t address the merits of what the court decides or support Kristof’s candidacy, parts of it echoes Kristof’s arguments.

In the absence of a constitutional definition of resident or residency, they wrote, the court should construe the term “in the broadest possible sense consistent with modern principles of democratic participation and inclusivity, rather than with the xenophobia and racism that motivated the durational residency requirement 162 years ago.”

Against a Kristof run

Six women of color, including two current Democratic lawmakers, asked the Oregon Supreme Court to reject Kristof’s run.

The group, which includes Reps. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, and WInsvey Campos, D-Aloha, argued in their own legal filing that Kristof does not meet the minimum qualifications primarily because he voted in New York elections as recently as November 2020.

“For twenty years, from 2000 until 2020, millions of Oregonians voted on issues of critical importance to the people of this state,” they wrote. “... While Kristof was voting in New York, Oregonians voted to remove racist language from our constitution. While Kristof was voting in New York, Oregonians voted to preserve our sanctuary state law. While Kristof was voting in New York, Oregonians twice voted to guarantee access to safe and legal abortions regardless of age or economic circumstances. While Kristof was voting in New York, Oregonians twice voted to fund healthcare for low-income children and families.”

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

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.”

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