It was big news when it happened: longtime New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof resigned from the paper to run for Oregon governor as a Democrat in 2022.
Except that Kristof’s run may not make it out of its infancy – if the Oregon Secretary of State’s office has anything to do with it.
On Thursday, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, said that “Mr. Kristof does not currently meet the Constitutional requirements to run or serve as Oregon Governor.”
The reason? To run for governor in Oregon, you must be a resident of the state for the last three years. According to the Secretary of State’s office, Kristof only formally registered to vote in the state in December 2020. That, plus a review of Kristof’s driver’s license information, home ownership, employment history and income taxes informed the decision that he was not eligible to run for governor.
“In the end, it wasn’t even a close call,” Fagan said in a press conference following her decision.
(Sidebar: Kristof has been aware of his potential residency issue for a while now. “I probably should have changed my registration,” he admitted when he announced his candidacy. “I wasn’t focused on paperwork. I was focused on voting to remove President Trump and vote for Joe Biden.”)
Kristof plans to appeal the ruling prior to the state’s March 17 filing deadline. (The primary will be in May.) That appeal is likely to center on the fact that he was born in Oregon and, as the Oregonian notes, “has owned property in the state for decades and returned to Oregon nearly every summer while working as a New York Times columnist in New York and abroad.
And, as he made clear in a tweet following the ruling, Kristof will also try to paint the ruling as a classic insider-versus-outsider battle.
“A failing political establishment in Oregon has chosen to protect itself, rather than give voters a choice,” tweeted Kristof Thursday. “We will challenge this decision in court, and we are confident we will prevail, because the law is on our side.”
(That message is in line with the broader theme of Kristof’s campaign; “Nothing will change until we stop moving politicians up the career ladder year after year, even though they refuse to step up to the problems Oregon faces,” he said when he announced his bid last October.)
That message could also get a boost if Fagan, the secretary of state, decides to run for governor herself. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan handicapping service in Washington, lists her as a potential candidate although she has yet to say anything publicly about the race. While Fagan was just sworn into her role last January, the fact that the state has no lieutenant governor role means she is next in line to be governor if anything should happen to the state’s chief executive. And Fagan drew some attention last year when she effectively declared herself both secretary of state and lieutenant governor.
(Update: Fagan spokesperson Molly Woon told me Sunday that “Shemia has repeatedly and publicly said she’s not running” for governor.)
The governorship is open because Democrat Kate Brown (once secretary of state herself!) is term limited. Both Republicans and Democrats are likely to have crowded fields. The newest candidate in the contest – former state House leader Christine Drazan, a Republican – took a shot at Kristof in her announcement speech.
“I looked at the Democrats – the ultra-liberal, the so-called moderate, the carpetbagger from New York – and I knew, like all of you know, that Oregon cannot survive another four years of this,” she said.
While Oregon has a clear Democratic lean – Republicans haven’t held the governor’s office in more than 30 years and the last Republican to win the state at the presidential level was Ronald Reagan in 1984 – the race may well be more competitive between the two parties than you might think. The reason is that state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a Democrat, has filed to run for governor as an independent candidate – and raised more than $2 million for the race as of mid-November.
Since Kristof has never been a candidate for any office before, it remains to be seen whether he will be a good one. Or, at this point, whether he will even get the chance.
This story has been updated Sunday with a statement from Fagan’s spokesperson.
Rachel Janfaza contributed to this report.