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Simply Resolving Kristof’s Residency Controversy

January 13th, 2022 by dk

Nick Kristof is still running for governor of Oregon. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan declared him to be disqualified last week, shortly after three of her predecessors stated that they would have left the matter for voters to decide. The issue will now be resolved in the courts, where case law precedent is thin but probably favors the candidate.

Oregon’s constitution is clear on its residency requirement. “Article V Section 2. Qualifications of Governor. No person … shall be eligible to the Office of Governor … who shall not have been three years next preceding his election, a resident within this State.” In other words, you cannot be elected governor in Oregon on Nov. 8, 2022 if you weren’t a resident of Oregon on Nov. 8, 2019.

Trouble is, our state constitution doesn’t define “resident.”

Fagan based her determination on voting records. Those records are maintained by her office, so it makes sense to start there. Kristof voted in New York in 2020. But he paid taxes in Oregon, bought property, maintained a farm, and spent plenty of time in his childhood hometown of Yamhill, Oregon.

Jeanne Atkins, Bill Bradbury and Phil Keisling, all former secretaries of state, wrote for The Oregonian that the candidate’s intent must be considered paramount. “Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, a person should be presumed to be a resident of the place or places they consider to be home.” 

Kristof may own multiple houses, but he has only one home. After that, voters should be trusted to make their own judgement about whether Kristof is Oregonian enough for them. Fagan’s move would remove his name from ballots, denying voters a choice. Who would have guessed that voter suppression could become an issue in Oregon?

Lawyers will do what lawyers do, but the controversy must not become the context. Here’s a simpler residency test. Ask around.

Yamhill County lists the city’s population at 860. The city’s website: “Yamhill is a small community with 1105 citizens who are proud to call it home.” Wikipedia counts 1024, and Google counts 1346. All sources agree it’s not very many. Is Nicholas Kristof is among them? Ask the people who would know.

Walk into the Trask Mountain Outpost on Main Street, order their famous Bacon Bloody Mary, and ask the bartender, “Does Nick Kristof live around here?” (Don’t use the word “reside.” They’re suspicious of city slickers.) Greet Kristof’s neighbors when they come out to get their mail and ask, “Who lives in that farmhouse over there?”

Most of us don’t know our neighbors, but we know which houses near us are vacant. Has Kristof established his residency with the people who matter most — his neighbors? We’re a small state. We’re all neighbors. If his name appears on the May ballot and voters don’t think he’s qualified to be governor, they’ll say so. What could be simpler than that?

Kristof’s campaign will bring him into people’s homes. If voters aren’t comfortable with him, they’ll find a candidate who makes them feel more at home. The candidate’s definition of home certainly matters, but not as much as the voters’.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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