What is it about January 6 and political drama?
Granted, the intrigue in Oregon today didn’t match the history-making high crimes and misdemeanors in Washington DC a year ago. Nothing ever could, or so we can devoutly hope, given that the insurrection at the Capitol has brought the US’s grand experiment with democracy perilously close to the edge.
Still, January 6, 2022, was a day of unusually high stakes in the Oregon political world.
First, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan announced in no uncertain terms that Yamhill-raised former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who resigned from that post in order to run for governor here in 2022, was not eligible for the race due to residency issues.
Kristof struck back right away, hosting a rare (for Oregon) in-person press conference to declare that he would challenge the decision in court—a not unexpected move, but a likely unwelcome distraction for his campaign, given that the primary is just a little over four months away.
And then—on the heels of Oregon State Senate President Peter Courtney announcing earlier this week that he would not seek reelection after 38 years in the Oregon Legislature—Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, one of Kristof’s rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, announced that she was stepping down from the legislature after nine years in that role.
It’s all head-spinning, and intertwined: In her press conference today, Fagan faced questions about whether her disqualification of Kristof’s candidacy was based on her political connections to Kotek and other long-standing officeholders in the Oregon Democratic Party. (Kristof has never held political office.)
She roundly denied that, saying, “Oregonians can trust that this is a decision that is not being made due to politics.” Instead, she said, Kristof’s long-standing affiliation with New York state, including living, voting, and paying taxes there as recently as 2020, amounted to what she called, “mountains of objective evidence that until recently he considered himself a New York resident.” Fagan also noted that Oregon’s system of vote by mail would have made it easy for Kristof to receive his Oregon ballot by mail in 2020.
Kristof, unsurprisingly had a different take, citing previous legal precedents in which Oregon courts have allowed candidacies regardless of residency.
“This is a decision based on politics, not precedent,” he said Thursday afternoon. “The law is clearly on our side. Our campaign will challenge this decision in court and we will win. As you all know, I come from outside the political establishment and I don’t owe insiders anything. They view my campaign as a threat.”
Next up: a court challenge on an accelerated timeline, since ballots and voters’ pamphlets need to be printed in March, in time to be mailed out to voters a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Legislature will convene in just a few weeks for February’s short session without Kotek at the helm of the Oregon House and the Democratic caucus. Several candidates for the role have emerged, including State Rep. Janelle Bynum of Happy Valley; Oregon Senate Democrats will also be picking a new leader for a chamber in flux, with a higher-than-usual number of planned retirements.