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Sparks fly after Oregon Supreme Court rules Nick Kristof ineligible to run for governor

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By JIM REDDEN/Oregon Capital Bureau — Sparks continued to fly Thursday in the Oregon governor’s race even after the state Supreme Court ruled earlier that morning that former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof couldn’t run for governor.

The court unanimously upheld Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s January decision that Kristof is not eligible to run for governor because he will not have lived three years in the state by the November 8 election, as required by the Oregon Constitution.

Kristof had been seeking the Democratic nomination before Fagan ruled him off the ballot. Kristof’s lawyers argued he was raised in Oregon and owns a farm in the rural community of Yamhill that he and his family live on every summer. Fagan argued his real home was in New York, where he had voted as recently as 2020 — an argument the court found convincing.

Kristof accepted the ruling during a press conference two hours after the ruling was released, but criticized the state’s “political system” for not solving the problems he said motivated him to enter the race. They include the lack of affordable housing, the homeless crisis, the lack of addiction and mental health services, and climate change, he said.

“Oregon is in a moment of crisis and it affects all of us. And far too many of our families and friends are left to struggle with the impact of those choices on their own because our political system believes their problems are too difficult to take on,” Kristof said, adding, “I believe they’re too difficult not to take on. And while I may not get the opportunity to take them on as your governor, I remain deeply committed to doing everything in my power to tackle these issues and build a brighter future.”

Although Kristof said he would not challenge the ruling, Fagan took a shot at him a short time later during her own press conference. After praising the ruling for upholding her “objective” decision to disqualify Kristof, she accused him of previously making the kind of “baseless” accusations that undermine democracy by calling it politically motivated.

“Increasing harassment and attacks on elections workers here in Oregon and around the country often begin with empty allegations of bias or corruption. We are seeing an increase in harassment targeting election workers and even death threats toward county clerks right here in Oregon,” said Fagan, who is also a Democrat.

After Fagan first disqualified him, Kristof said, “As you all know, I come from outside the political establishment and I don’t owe insiders anything. They view my campaign as a threat.” When pressed by reporters if she was referring to that and similar statements by Kristof, Fagan said yes. But when pressed again about whether any of her employees had been threatened by anyone because of Kristof’s statements, Fagan admitted no one had.

Former Democratic state Senator Betsy Johnson, who is mounting a non-affiliated campaign for governor, said she was “disappointed” Kristof cannot run for governor, adding, “This decision is further evidence that the two-party system is not working for Oregon.”

Still unanswered is what Kristof will do with the contributions he has received in the race. He has collected nearly $2.75 million in cash and in-kind contributions and still has more than $1.64 million in the bank. That is more than either of two leading Democratic candidates —former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and State Treasurer Tobias Read — have raised so far. State election officials confirmed Kristof can keep the money and contribute it to other candidates if he chooses.

Kotek and Read both issued conciliatory statements toward Kristof after the ruling was released. They were significantly different, however.

Kotek posted a short, two-sentence Tweet that said, “Nick Kristof has long written about pressing issues facing Oregonians and his voice will continue to be important as we tackle Oregon’s biggest issues. I look forward to working with him as a fellow Democrat.”

In contrast, Read’s campaign released a lengthy, 11-paragraph statement that echoed Kristof’s outsider stance, criticized Kotek, and embraced many of the issues he advocated, including addressing homelessness and creating economic opportunities in rural communities.

“This is now a two-person race for the Democratic nomination for Governor. And there is a clear choice. Continue the status quo in Salem or vote for Tobias Read, someone who isn’t afraid to confront the urgent challenges we face in Oregon,” read part of the statement from campaign manager Jessica LaVigne.

The constitution and state law do not define the term “resident” and the issue has never been fully litigated. Kristof filed for the Democratic nomination on Dec. 20. The Oregon Secretary of State’s Office asked for information about his residency the next day. Kristof’s attorneys replied that he was raised in Oregon, considers the state his home and only moved out for education and employment. Kristof said he maintains property in the state that he and his family repeatedly return to and live on.

Fagan then ruled Kristof ineligible to run, arguing that he had lived in New York and voted there as recently as 2020. Kristof appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing, among other things, that the Marion County Circuit Court ruled in 1974 that state Rep. Bill Wyatt was eligible to run for his northern Oregon Coast seat despite registering and voting in Eugene while attending the University of Oregon earlier. Then-Oregon Secretary of State Clay Myers did not appeal the ruling.

The Oregon Department of Justice, representing Fagan, responded with a filing on Jan. 20 that argued the “text, context and history” of the constitutional requirement indicated that “resident within” means “a person must have been domiciled in Oregon during that period” and that a person “can only have one domicile at any given time.”

Kristof responded that “resident” is more a matter of intent that is not limited by technicalities like driver’s licenses and voter registrations.

The Oregon Capital Bureau in Salem is staffed by reporters from EO Media and Pamplin Media Group and provides state government and political news to their newspapers and media around Oregon, including Highway58Herald.org

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