SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon election officials ruled Thursday that former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is ineligible to run for governor because he does not meet the state's three-year residency requirement.
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, said it was obvious Kristof had been a New Yorker until just over one year ago, citing in particular his having voted in New York in the 2020 election.
“Oregon statute provides directly that ... if a person casts a ballot in another state, they are no longer a resident of Oregon. It’s very, very simple,” Fagan told reporters.
“For 20 years living, working, raising his kids, holding a driver’s license, filing taxes and voting as a New York resident until a year ago just doesn’t pass the smell test,” she added.
Kristof fired back, vowing to appeal the decision and tweeting: “A failing political establishment in Oregon has chosen to protect itself, rather than give voters a choice.”
“I come from outside the political establishment and I don’t owe insiders anything," he later told a news conference. "They view my campaign as a threat and so, instead of working to end homelessness, they’re working to end my candidacy.”
For years, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner was a globe-trotting foreign correspondent and columnist. Kristof’s attempt to run as a Democrat for governor generated a lot of interest and he raised more than $1 million in less than a month.
Questions about Kristof’s residency had dogged him even before he announced his candidacy in October, the same month that The New York Times announced he had resigned. According to Oregon law, a candidate for governor must have been a resident of this state for at least three years before an election.
Kristof, 62, told election officials in a sworn statement that he moved as a 12-year-old with his parents to a farm in Yamhill, Oregon, in 1971, and has considered it to be his home ever since. He has purchased additional acreage nearby since then.
His lawyers said he has paid taxes on the properties and that he filed Oregon income tax returns for 2019 and 2020.
Oregon Elections Director Deborah Scroggin and Compliance Specialist Lydia Plukchi told Kristof in a letter Thursday that they rejected his filing for governor because he didn't meet the constitutional requirements to be a candidate.
“You suggest that we should apply a different standard, but we decline to change the way we evaluate residency,” they wrote, without elaborating.
Fagan said she endorsed the decision by the elections officials, who work for her, and didn’t consider overruling it, adding: "It wasn’t even a close call.”
Kristof had argued that by voting in New York, he was not renouncing Oregon as his home. He said that after he dies he wants to be cremated and his ashes spread on his farm and on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Scroggin and Plukchi told Kristof in their letter that he may “file an appeal to the appropriate circuit court." That could be in Marion County, where the state capital of Salem and Fagan's office is located.
An appeal could wind up in the Oregon Supreme Court. The primary elections are in May, in which voters choose their party's candidates for governor and other offices.
Election officials said Thursday that despite their request for documentation to prove Kristof was an Oregon resident, he did not provide copies of his tax returns. Election officials acknowledged they didn't specifically ask for them because they didn't want to confine their request for documents to any particular item.
Kristof told reporters Thursday he would have provided tax returns if they had been requested.
Kristof’s campaign recently offered a legal opinion by retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice William Riggs that Kristof has been a resident of Oregon since at least November 2019 “and likely much longer.”
Riggs said that Kristof’s voting in New York would undermine his Oregon residency only if it established that he didn’t intend Oregon to be his permanent home.
Three former Oregon secretaries of state said in a newspaper opinion piece last month that “a person should be presumed to be a resident of the place or places they consider to be home.”
“It is clear he considers Oregon ‘home,’" Jeanne Atkins, Bill Bradbury and Phil Keisling wrote, referring to Kristof.
Democrats have held Oregon's governor’s office since 1987. Those running for the state’s high office include Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read.
Republicans seeking their party’s nomination include state Rep. Christine Drazan, former Republican nominee Bud Pierce and Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam.
Former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson is running as an independent.
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Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press