POLITICS

Oregon elections officials: Kristof ineligible to run for governor

Nick Kristof (Kristof campaign photo)

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said Thursday that deciding former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof didn’t qualify to run for governor “wasn’t even a close call.”

Fagan’s staff notified Kristof’s campaign on Thursday morning that he didn’t meet a constitutional requirement to be a “resident within this state” for three years prior to the November 2022 election.

Fagan outlined findings by the state Elections Division in a Thursday morning news conference, citing the Democrat’s ties to New York and his failure to produce documents he said made his case.

Hours later at his own news conference in Portland, a defiant Kristof vowed to fight the ruling, calling it an act of self-protection by a “failing political establishment.”

“Our campaign will challenge this decision in court, and we will win,” he said. “We have great faith in the Oregon courts. We’re going to continue campaigning for governor and we’re gonna win that too.”

By law, he’ll have to go to state circuit court to start his fight – and the clock is ticking. The secretary of state by law has to get ballot content to county clerks by March 17.

Kristof, who grew up in Oregon but lived most of his adult life outside the state, has outpaced other Democratic candidates in fundraising since he announced his campaign in October. However, questions have lingered about his eligibility for office because of where he lived.

“The rules are the rules and they apply equally to all candidates for office in Oregon,” Fagan said in a statement. “The Oregon Elections Division and local election officials use the same standards to determine qualifications for hundreds of candidates in dozens of offices every year. In this instance, the candidate clearly does not meet the constitutional requirement to run or serve as governor of Oregon.”

Fagan said her office informed Kristof of its decision Thursday morning. Her office’s attorneys also spoke with his attorneys by phone Thursday morning, she said.

His campaign has maintained that he has always considered Oregon home and he was therefore eligible to run for governor.

He voted in New York as recently as November 2020 and had continued to use his New York address on other recent public documents obtained by the Oregon Capital Chronicle through records requests. Kristof declined to share documents that would establish his residency.

Instead, his campaign relied on legal arguments, enlisting a retired Oregon Supreme Court justice to write an opinion arguing that Kristof should be considered a resident because he has always thought of Oregon as home.

Misha Isaak, a Portland attorney representing Kristof, also argued that Oregon’s residency standards are a relic of a racist history. Kristof’s campaign paid Isaak’s firm, Perkins Coie, slightly more than $40,000 as of Nov. 30, according to state campaign finance records, though the law firm refunded him $25,000 in late December.

During his Thursday press conference, Kristof said he didn’t provide his tax returns to the Secretary of State’s Office because it didn’t explicitly ask for them. He said he ignored the Oregon Capital Chronicle’s explicit requests for the tax returns, and other documents, at least in a redacted form that would show his address, because the matter of residency was under state review.

“We will indeed provide our tax returns, along with other candidates, later as is traditional,” Kristof said. “We wanted to honor the secretary of state’s inquiry while this was in the works, and we are disappointed that it did not go differently.”

In their letter to Kristof, compliance specialist Lydia Plukchi and Elections Director Deborah Scroggin wrote that his New York voting history played a major role in their decision.

“When determining residency for elections purposes, the place where a person votes is particularly powerful, because voting is the center of engaged citizenship,” the two wrote. “The fact that you voted in New York strongly indicates that you viewed it as the place where you intended to permanently return when you were away.”

They noted that Kristof paid income taxes in New York from 1999 to 2021. He paid income taxes in Oregon in 2019 and 2020 but didn’t indicate for their review whether he did so as a full-year resident, a part-year resident or a nonresident.

Scroggin explained her team didn’t ask for specific documents from Kristof to leave him and his attorneys free to decide what evidence to present.

Kristof described working in both New York, where he was a New York Times columnist until resigning this fall, and Oregon, where he manages his family farm outside the rural community of Yamhill, the state’s letter said. He didn’t explain the extent of his involvement with the farm and how he supervised employees, Plukchi and Scroggin wrote.

“While a person’s statement of their intent is significant, we also consider a person’s prior acts,” they wrote. “We cannot ignore past acts that strongly indicate the person’s state of mind at that time, even if the person’s current sworn statement indicates a different intent.”

Fagan, a Democrat, stressed that her own personal politics did not affect her office’s decision. Supporters of several gubernatorial candidates supported her campaign last year, and Kristof’s attorney is a friend, she said.

She also said that she left the decision to professionals in the office’s Elections Division. Plukchi, the compliance officer in charge of the case, has worked for the office for nearly 20 years under both Democratic and Republican secretaries of state.

“I’m a person of integrity, and Oregonians can trust that this is a process that was put through the professionals in the Elections Division who have the experience and the technical expertise to apply the qualifications to the law,” Fagan said.

Kristof said Thursday that he believed Oregon’s political class was threatened by his fundraising haul. So far, he has raised nearly $2.5 million for his campaign since launching in mid-October and still had nearly $1.9 million on hand as the word came Thursday that he had been disqualified to run.

Kristof is one of 11 statewide candidates so far this year to be disqualified from running for office for not meeting the minimum qualifications, and he’s one of seven candidates for governor who didn’t meet the standards. Plukchi said that number tends to peak when open high-profile races are on the ballot.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland and state Treasurer Tobias Read are the other front-runners in the Democratic primary.

Deputy Editor Lynne Terry contributed reporting.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: [email protected] Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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