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Oregon high court blocks Nick Kristof’s gubernatorial run

Pulitzer Prize winner Nick Kristof quit his job at The New York Times before ensuring he would qualify to run for the gig he wanted next: governor of Oregon.

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof doesn’t qualify as an Oregon resident and therefore can't be on the ballot for the May primary for governor, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled.

Kristof has until Feb. 22 to petition the court for reconsideration, but he said in a statement Thursday that he “will not pursue this further.”

"This ruling represents the end of my campaign for governor,” Kristof said. “But let me be clear: I’m not going anywhere.”

Oregon’s constitution requires candidates for governor to prove they've resided in the state for at least three years before the election they want to compete in. Although Kristof lived on a farm near the small town of Yamhill, Oregon, as a teen, he moved to New York in 2000 and didn’t move back to the Beaver State until after the November 2019 cutoff, according to a January ruling by Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. Critically, Fagan found, Kristof voted in New York during the 2020 presidential election, paid income taxes in New York and maintained a New York driver’s license during that same 20-year period.

Kristof appealed Fagan’s decision, claiming Fagan’s nonpartisan decision was based on politics.

“A failing political establishment in Oregon has chosen to protect itself, rather than give voters a choice,” Kristof said at the time. “We will challenge this decision in court, and we are confident we will prevail, because the law is on our side.”

But on Thursday, the state’s highest court backed Fagan up.

“Given the objective evidence in the record of relator’s continued presence in and related connections to New York in 2019 and 2020, and the limited detail on key components of his ongoing connections to Oregon, the secretary was not compelled to find that, as of November 2019, relator had reestablished his residence in Oregon and intended that Oregon, not New York, be the state in which he would reside indefinitely or, ultimately, to conclude that relator had changed his domicile to Oregon,” the justices wrote in a per curiam ruling.

Kristof had claimed that, although he lived in New York for two decades, he also maintained a summer home in Oregon. He said that meant he maintained two homes, which qualified him to run for governor under Oregon’s constitutional requirement that a candidate “reside within” the state for three years prior to an election.

But under the legal definition of “domicile,” the justices found that a person can have only one residence at a time that qualifies as “a fixed habitation or abode in a particular place, and an intention to remain there permanently or indefinitely.”

The court noted that the question of whether to require the residency that Kristof challenged was also debated at Oregon’s 1857 constitutional convention.

“Why should a man be elected our chief executive who had only just arrived amongst us?” James Kelly argued at the convention, according to the ruling. “A man should know something of the state before he assumed to take into his hands the reins of the government.”

Another man, Frederick Waymire, also argued for the residency requirement. Waymire worried Oregon would have “half the office-seekers of California up here. Strangers came here sometimes and married our girls, when at the same time they had wives in the States, and he was opposed to giving our substance into the hands of strangers,” the ruling states.

The justices found that worry particularly salient to Kristof’s situation.

“Although it is a peculiar example, Waymire’s concern with bigamists suggests that the requirement was intended to bar office seekers who, despite some Oregon connections, might retain a more significant connection to another state,” the justices wrote.

Kristof also challenged the constitutionality of the residency requirement, but the justices found that the writ of mandamus Kristof filed is not the proper vehicle to resolve such a question. A writ of mandamus, the justices noted, serves only “to compel a public official to perform a clear duty” — appropriate for the question of whether to compel county elections officials to place Kristof’s name on the May primary ballot, but not to challenge the constitutional requirements for candidacy.

“That does not mean that the courthouse doors are closed to consideration of this claim, just that it is not suited to the extraordinary legal remedy of mandamus,” the justices wrote.

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