Our opinion: Secretary of state should have let Kristof run
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan ruled on Thursday, Jan. 6, that Nick Kristof, former columnist and reporter for the New York Times, is not a resident of Oregon. As such, according to Fagan, he cannot run for governor this year.
The office questioned Kristof's residency since he registers to vote in New York and has a New York driver's license.
Kristoff's argument is that he returns to Oregon every year and owns and maintains property in Yamhill.
We don't know if Kristof would be a good governor or even capable of winning his party's primary in a state where his connections to grassroot Democratic constituencies — such as public employee unions — don't run nearly as deep as his most prominent opponents. However, we believe the secretary of state's office has played favorites for the Democratic leadership here. She has ignored logic and legal precedence, we think, both of which argue in favor of Kristof.
First, there's established case law in Oregon supporting this position. In 1974, then Secretary of State Clay Myers ruled that Bill Wyatt, a Clatsop County state representative, couldn't run for the Legislature because he had registered to vote in Lane County while attending the University of Oregon in Eugene. Wyatt challenged the decision in court and won, with a Marion County judge ruling that "the question of domicile is largely one of intent."
The other argument, that Kristof had a New York driver's license in 2020, is a head-scratcher. Where you have your license tells us where your car is, not where your heart is.
Not only is there case law but common sense on his side. Many students vote where their schools are but rush back to their family and friends every spring, summer and winter break. Why? Because that's home. Not only that, but schools go to great lengths to make sure that a student from, say, Oregon, can't attend college in, say, California, and claim in-state tuition just because they moved. No, say the schools. Your home is where you're from.
So be it.
The same is true for those serving in the military.
And the pandemic has taught us to be flexible with concepts about "home." Thanks to the boom in virtual workplaces, you can live in Portland and work in Prineville. As the judge said back in 1974, the question of "home" is largely one of intent.
Kristof likely will challenge Fagan's ruling. And "stare decisis," the doctrine of precedent in court cases, leans in his favor. We suspect he'd win. But in the meantime, he'll garner an array of "earned media" as we all cover the legal battle. If Fagan's goal had been to hobble a well-funded outsider campaign, Thursday's decision might end up having the opposite effect.
Again: We're not sure how good a candidate he would be. But the ruling to keep him out of the race seems flimsy.
The final argument against Fagan's decision is this: Home is where the heart is. So long as you're not cheating, lying about your status, or registering in more than one place, people should get to choose where their residency is.
Kristof says he's an Oregonian. He grew up here, owns two large rural properties here and has paid Oregon property taxes on that land for almost three decades.
Secretary of State Fagan should let voters decide if they consider him enough of an Oregonian to entrust him with the state's most important leadership role.
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