SALEM, Ore. — Nick Kristof is not currently eligible to serve as governor of Oregon and cannot appear on the ballot this year, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning, upholding a previous decision by Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan to reject Kristof’s candidacy on the grounds that he does not meet the state’s constitutional residency requirement.
Kristof issued a statement and held a press conference Thursday morning in which he acknowledged that the court decision brings an end to his campaign. The court ruling mentions that Kristof can petition for reconsideration, but he stated that he would not do so.
Kristof's statement and the press conference video are both included at the bottom of this story. Fagan held a separate press conference later in the morning, which is also embedded below.
Kristof announced his candidacy in October, a couple weeks after ending his long career at The New York Times.
The Oregon Secretary of State's office oversees the state's elections and is tasked with verifying that all candidates meet the necessary legal criteria to appear on the ballot for the office they're seeking.
The Oregon Constitution requires candidates for governor to have been residents of the state for at least three years prior to the election, and Fagan struck Kristof's name from the ballot last month after concluding that he had been a resident of New York until the end of 2020.
Kristof appealed the decision, arguing that he grew up in Oregon and owns property in Yamhill County, and that he considers himself an Oregonian and never stopped being a resident of the state even while working in New York.
Fagan agreed to work with Kristof to fast-track the case to the Supreme Court in order to get a final answer ahead of a March 17 deadline for the state to begin printing ballots for the primary election.
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At his press conference, Kristof reiterated some of his campaign issues including the housing crisis and criminal justice reform, and said he intended to find other ways to fight for change on those issues.
He didn't say whether he would consider running for office again, or what his immediate career plans will be. He also declined to say if he would throw his support behind any of the other candidates in the race for governor.
“I just found out about the decision. I’m going to have to sort out what I’m going to do. At this point I just don’t know," he said.
He said he didn't yet know what would happen to the donations his campaign previously received, and that he would need to take time to sort out the legal issues involved. Kristof's campaign currently has more than $1.6 million in cash on hand, according to Secretary of State records.
At Fagan's press conference, elections division director Deborah Scroggin said the campaign has multiple options for what to do with the money. Ben Morris, communications director for the Secretary of State's office, released a more detailed statement one day later.
"His options for what to do with the money are broad, including but not limited to giving it to charity, giving it to another candidate or refunding his donors," he wrote in an email. "He cannot use the money for personal gain. His Oregon committee could not be used to run for federal office, but the money can be transferred to a federal [Political Action Committee] and then subject to federal campaign finance laws."
At the press conference, Fagan said her decision was based on objective and equally-applied standards for candidate eligibility, and that the court verdict is an affirmation of the procedures that Oregon election officials already use to screen candidates.
She also criticized Kristof for making "baseless attacks that the decision was corrupt, politically motivated, or biased." Her prepared remarks didn't mention him by name, but when asked, Fagan confirmed that she was calling out Kristof specifically.
"Mr. Kristof accused us of making a politically motivated decision, and he was wrong," she said.
Fagan's comments were in reference to statements Kristof made immediately after Fagan's original decision was released. He first tweeted "A failing political establishment in Oregon has chosen to protect itself, rather than give voters a choice," and later stated "My willingness to challenge the status quo is the reason state officials are trying to toss me from the ballot."
Those attacks crossed a line, Fagan said, coming at a time when election workers are facing increasing of attacks and harassment that often begin with "empty allegations of bias or corruption," although she added that she was not aware of any specific incidents stemming from Kristof's comments.
In the opinion released Thursday, the court agreed with an argument filed by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on behalf of Fagan that the best way to define the phrase "resident within this state" as it appears in the Oregon Constitution is through the legal concept of a domicile.
A person can only legally have one domicile at a time, even if they own residential property in multiple places, the court wrote, and Fagan correctly concluded that although Kristof was domiciled in Oregon for several decades starting in 1971, he became domiciled in New York in the early 2000s and at that point ceased to be an Oregon resident.
The full opinion can be read below:
The court's opinion includes a lengthy examination of the historical context behind the word "resident," looking at how the word is defined in other parts of the state constitution as well as how it was commonly understood at the time the constitution was adopted.
"During the mid-nineteenth century, laws or constitutions that included residency requirements for voting or officeholding were commonplace, and they were overwhelmingly interpreted to require domicile," the court wrote.
Kristof was registered to vote in Oregon and maintained an Oregon driver's license from 1978 to 2000, the court wrote, and he purchased multiple properties in the state during that time period.
However, he also purchased residential property in New York in 1999, and in 2000 he switched to a New York driver license and voter registration. He began filing income taxes in New York in 2000, and his children attended public school in New York from then on.
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The court acknowledged that Kristof began spending much more time in Oregon starting in 2018 while working on a book and operating a business, writing that this "could lend at least some support to the view that [Kristof] began to shift the center of his affairs to Oregon before November 2019."
However, he still cast a New York ballot in the November 2020 election and maintained a new York driver's license and voter registration until December 2020, "actions that are at odds with an intent to change his domicile to Oregon a year or more earlier."
"... the choice of where to register is a meaningful one, as it provides evidence of the political community to which a person feels the greatest attachment -- the community in whose elections that person wishes to have a say," the court wrote.
Read Kristof's full statement below:
"The Supreme Court has spoken. And while we are disappointed in the decision, we respect its ruling and thank the justices for their thoughtful consideration on this matter.
In today’s opinion, the Supreme Court suggested I could petition for reconsideration or pursue unaddressed issues in federal court, but I respect the court’s decision and will not pursue this further.
This ruling represents the end of my campaign for governor. But let me be clear: I’m not going anywhere.
As I’ve said many times, I’ve been an Oregonian since I was a kid helping out on my family’s farm. And I’ll be an Oregonian until the moment I draw my last breath.
And because I love our great state and care so deeply about our shared future, I’m going to keep fighting for it — because the challenges we face are so grave and people I care for are struggling. The desire to serve my state led me to enter this race and I’m not going to stop addressing the problems around us, whether my name is on the ballot or not.
I repeatedly learned on the campaign trail about families who were left behind by their government. A single mom in Beaverton who, despite her job as a housekeeper, could only afford to live with her two children in a garden shed that had no power or water. The small coastal community of Bay City struggling with a growing homelessness problem. And, in Bend, the lack of mental health and addiction treatment access for the community.
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.
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.
This news is fresh for all of us, and I’ll need time with my wife, Sheryl, and our family to discuss what’s next for us.
I want to thank Oregonians across our state for believing in my campaign and in our collective ability to bring real change to the state we love. Onward."