Nick Kristof, seeking the Oregon governor’s office, is shown in front of the state Capitol in Salem in 2021. (Kristof Campaign photo)
Two Democratic state representatives Monday urged the Oregon Supreme Court to reject Nick Kristof’s assertion that he’s qualified to run for governor.
Reps. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, and Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, joined four other women of color in arguing that Kristof’s presence on the ballot would reverse progress the state has made toward racial and gender equity. They took their stand in an independent legal filing in the Supreme Court case Kristof has filed to get restored to the primary ballot.
Kristof maintains that he meets a constitutional requirement that a governor must live in Oregon for three years prior to the election. Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan decided in early January that he was not qualified to run and he would not appear on the ballot.
The brief is an amicus – a legal filing by someone who is not a direct party to a pending case but wants to separately advise the court on the legal issues before it. Kristof was scheduled to file his final brief in the case on Wednesday and the Supreme Court could decide the matter as soon as Thursday. County clerks need a list of those to put on their primary ballots by March 17.
The six women said the court should use Kristof’s voting history, not his feelings about Oregon, to determine whether he appears on the ballot. The brief was filed on their behalf by Portland attorney Nick Kahl, a former state representative.
Joining Valderrama and Campos in the filing were Imani Dorsey, the co-founder of Washington County Ignite; Nancy Haque, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon; Reyna Lopez, executive director of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos Noroeste, and Becca Uherbelau, an executive board member of New Oregon Movement.
“To represent Oregonians in the highest office in the land, people don’t get to skip the eligibility rules just because they say Oregon is home,” the legal filing said. “Relying on purely subjective standards to determine if someone is eligible to run for Oregon governor not only renders the plain language of the Oregon Constitution meaningless, it also asks Oregon to move backwards in its progress towards equity.”
They made three key points.
First, the court should consider where Kristof voted as the most important issue. Second, owning property doesn’t qualify someone to run for office. And third, election officials must use objective measures like voting history, instead of subjective measures like feelings, to decide whether candidates are eligible for office.
Kristof registered to vote in Oregon in May 1977, according to a copy of his voter registration card obtained by the Capital Chronicle. He remained an Oregon voter while living out-of-state until 2000, when he registered to vote in New York. Because Yamhill County didn’t begin keeping consistent records of individual voting history until 2006, it’s unknown whether he voted in Oregon during that period and he hasn’t responded to questions about the matter.
Kristof did vote in New York from 2000 until November 2020. He said in a sworn affidavit that he cast his 2020 ballot by mail from his Yamhill farm, but he has not addressed why he wouldn’t register to vote in Oregon until December 2020.
In the 20 years he was voting in New York, Oregon voters increasedthe minimum wage, rejected limits on access to abortion, approved a ban on same-sex marriage and funded health care for low-income children, the brief said.
“For twenty years –nearly an entire generation –whenever Kristof voted, he voted as a New Yorker,” the brief said. “He voted as a New Yorker when school board elections were held in Scarsdale, where his children attended public school as New York residents. He voted as a New Yorker when his state sent George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer, and Andrew Cuomo to Albany, New York. For two decades, Kristof cast his vote on the momentous decisions that impacted the lives of New Yorkers. Not Oregonians.”
The legal filing objected to Kristof’s assertion that his property ownership proves he is qualified to run for governor. Kristof and his family own seven properties in Yamhill County, according to property tax records.
In their filing, the women wrote that the court shouldn’t elevate property ownership above other factors used to determine residency. Owning property in the state isn’t a requirement to run for office, and using property ownership to determine residency could have a negative impact on people of color who are less likely to own a home, they wrote. A 2019 legislative report found that nearly two-thirds of white Oregon households own homes, compared to one-third of Black households and 40% of Hispanic households.
Finally, the women opposed Kristof’s assertion that the Supreme Court should rule in his favor because he considers Oregon home. Ahead of Fagan’s decision, Kristof’s campaign promoted an opinion column from three former Oregon secretaries of state defending his right to run because of his thoughts about Oregon.
The brief said that the court and election officials shouldn’t rely on such a subjective test as a candidate’s feelings, comparing it to laws prohibited by the Voting Rights Act that would have required people to “possess good moral character.” Subjective tests historically benefit white men and disenfranchise women and people of color, the women wrote.
“Kristof’s ‘sentiment’ that he ‘has always viewed Oregon as home’ recalls other subjective standards that have historically denied women and people of color access to equal opportunity,” the brief said, quoting Kristof’s own legal filing. “Claiming a subjective connection to Oregon is no different.”
The women’s assertion that Kristof’s candidacy would set back racial equity comes as Kristof’s attorneys argue that Oregon’s residency requirements are racist and resulted from attempts by the state’s founders to keep Chinese and Black Oregonians out of civic life. He argued that restricting his access to the ballot would prevent university students, homeless people, migrant workers, members of the military and others from having a voice in Oregon politics.
Lopez, the farmworker advocate who joined the brief, said in a statement that Kristof shouldn’t compare himself to migrant workers.
“For a wealthy white man to compare the fact that he owns property in Oregon while living in New York to the lives and experiences of migrant workers is deeply shocking,” she said. “Farmworkers are forced into an itinerant and difficult life in terrible conditions in order to survive and support their families. There is no comparison.”
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.