Even if the Oregon Supreme Court rules that former New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof is eligible for run for the Democrat nominee for governor, he already has been roughed up by opponents who hurt his chances in the May 2022 primary election. The court's decision is expected in early February.
But Kristof still could be a formidable force in Oregon politics even if he can't run. As first reported by the Oregon Capitol Bureau on Jan. 19, the secretary of state's office said he can keep and spend more than $2.7 million contributed to his campaign so far.
Kristof is widely known as a liberal globetrotting reporter who has railed against human rights abuses, social injustice, sex trafficking and underreported conflicts in Africa. His passionate writings have earned him the nickname "pissed off Kristof" and praise from such public figures as former President Bill Clinton and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who described Kristof as an "honorary African" for covering his continent.
But after Kristof filed as a Democrat for governor, six Oregon women of color denounced him as a rich white man using his privilege to hurt minority voters in the state. They filed a brief with the court on Jan. 24 in support of Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan's ruling that Kristof is not eligible to run for governor because he has not lived in the state long enough.
The controversy has revealed a deep split between older liberals and younger progressives. Kristof considers himself an Oregon resident because he was raised on a farm in the small town of Yamhill, owns property there that his family has returned to every summer for 30 years, and only moved out of state for education and employment. Three Democrats who previously served as Oregon secretaries of state — Jeanne Atkins, Bill Bradbury and Phil Keisling — argued that makes Kristof eligible to run in an opinion piece in the Dec. 19 Oregonian. Atkins and Bradbury made the same point in a brief filed with the court on Jan. 26.
In addition, former Democrat Oregon First District Congressman Les AuCoin is among more than 5,000 state residents who have contributed to Kristof's campaign.
The six women who filed the brief against Kristof include two young Democrat state legislators, Rep. Wlnsvey Campos and Rep. Andrea Valderrama. The other four are political activists with equity-based organizations: Imani Dorsey, the co-founder and interim executive director of Washington County Ignite; Nancy Haque, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon; Reyna Lopez, executive director of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos Noroeste (PCUN); and Becca Uherbelau, an executive board member of New Oregon Movement.
In their filing, the women attempt to turn Kristof's arguments against him. In a press release announcing the filing, they say, "Owning property, having significant wealth, or benefitting from elite connections to raise millions of dollars for a campaign does not qualify someone to run for governor."
In fact, the filing argues, the supreme court will harm potential candidates of color if it considers such standards when determining Kristof's eligibility.
"Whether a person meets the minimum qualifications for holding office should be judged objectively in a way that lessens the possibility of implicit biases by whomever holds the office of Secretary of State. For generations in this country, subjective rulings by election officials have denied women and people of color equal opportunity. Mr. Kristof's request for special treatment echoes this history," the release reads.
And the release goes even further, comparing Kristof's attempt to qualify for the ballot to ongoing Republican voter suppression efforts in several states.
"This is not just historical or theoretical. We are watching a worst case scenario playing out today in states like Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina where Secretaries of State are being pressured by powerful people into using subjective criteria to roll back voting access and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters who are overwhelmingly Black, indigenous, and people of color," Campos is quoted as saying in the release.
Four of the women or the organizations they direct — Campos, Haque, Lopez and Valderrama — have endorsed former Democrat House Speaker Tina Kotek for governor and their lawyer, Nick Kahl, has contributed to her campaign. No one filing a brief in support of Kristof's position has endorsed him.
Such rhetoric is far different from the accolades Kristof usually receives. Among other things, in 1990, Kristof and his wife, Sheryle WuDunn, won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their coverage of the pro-democracy student movement and the related Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. In 2006, Kristof won his second Pulitzer, for commentary, "for his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur and that gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world."
In 2009, former President Clinton said, "There is no one in journalism, anywhere in the United States at least, who has done anything like the work he has done to figure out how poor people are actually living around the world, and what their potential is." In 2011, The Washington Post said Kristof "rewrote opinion journalism" with his emphasis on human rights abuses and social injustices, such as human trafficking and the Darfur conflict. The Oregon Secretary of State's Office cited Kristof and his Pulitzers in a list of Oregon prize winners in the new edition of the Oregon Blue Book.
The Oregon Supreme Court accepted filings in the case through Friday, Jan. 28. It is expected to make a ruling by early February so that primary election ballots can be printed beginning on March 17.
But even if the court rules Kristof cannot run, he could have the last laugh, keeping his war chest of more than $2.7 million and growing.
Gubernatorial nominees also likely will include former Democrat state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is preparing to run as a non-affiliated candidate for governor in the November 2022 general election. Many of those who opposed Kristof likely will oppose her, too.
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