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Nick Kristof wants to be Oregon’s next governor. Will the state let him run?

caption: Nicholas Kristof selfie: 'That's me in front of my old high school in Yamhill, Oregon.'
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Nicholas Kristof selfie: 'That's me in front of my old high school in Yamhill, Oregon.'
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There's an interesting political story unfolding with our neighbors to the south. One of the candidates running to become Oregon's next governor is former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. But state officials say he doesn't meet the residency requirements.

Kristof is fighting it. The decision is now in the hands of the Oregon Supreme Court, with a ruling expected soon. The primary election for Oregon Governor is in May. KUOW’s Kim Malcolm got this update from Lauren Dake, who covers politics for Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Correction 2/8/2022: Melinda French Gates is contributing to Kristof's campaign, not the Gates Foundation. The error has been corrected in the web version of this story, below, but not the audio version.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Kim Malcolm: Nick Kristof is an internationally famous journalist, but until recently, people may not have been aware he has roots in Oregon. Tell us about where he grew up.

Lauren Dake: He grew up on a sheep and cherry farm in a rural community about an hour outside of Portland. His mom still lives on the farm. He and his family have converted the farm into a vineyard now. Kristof said he made his home base in New York for many years, he traveled the world, but he always came back to Oregon every summer.

In 2020, Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn wrote a book called Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope. It was about how working-class families have lost major ground in the U.S. in the last few decades. Then, he said he wanted to do something about it. He quit his big New York Times job and filed to run for governor of Oregon. What happened after that?

Not long after, he started facing questions about his residency. The Oregon State Constitution requires that a person lives in the state three years before the general election in order to qualify to run for governor. Kristof voted in New York as recently as 2020. He also had a New York driver's license in 2020. The Oregon Secretary of State's office ruled that those two pieces of evidence showed that he considered New York to be his home in 2020, and therefore does not meet the residency requirement to run for governor.

Do we know whether Kristof thought this would be an issue?

I asked him, why didn't you change your voter registration? It's really not that difficult to do in Oregon. He answered the question by pointing to the fact that he is not a strategic politician; that he decided after seeing how many problems the state is facing to get into the race and was compelled to do so just because he felt like he could fix it — not because he has a drawn-out strategy to become the governor.

He's appealing the Oregon Secretary of State's decision. What's his argument?

Kristof keeps pointing to his professional writing, where he refers to himself as an Oregonian. He reiterates that he grew up here in Oregon, on a farm in Yamhill County, is still involved in the family farm, and that he felt no matter where he was living, or no matter where he was traveling, that Oregon is his home.

Whether or not someone with his name recognition is in the field will make a big difference to the other Democratic candidates in the race. What are they saying?

The race becomes very different if Kristof can’t run. Governor Kate Brown, our current governor, cannot run again due to term limits. It's an open seat, and Kristof is considered a very serious contender. He has attracted a lot of support across Oregon. He has money coming in from his connections as a public figure. Big names like the Melinda French Gates and Angelina Jolie have both contributed to his race. He's raised $2 million more than any other candidate. He's a viable candidate. I think everybody's just waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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