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Congressional Residency Requirements: Home Is “Anywhere I Hang My Hat”

Of all the issues you can raise in a political campaign, the dumbest is whether a member of Congress has moved his/her family to Washington.

O.K., possibly not the absolute dumbest. There was that dust-up over whether now-Senator Rand Paul had, as a college student, kidnapped a female friend and forced her to worship “Aqua Buddha.” Although now that I’m thinking about it, I really did enjoy that one.

Right now in Indiana, Senator Richard Lugar is under fire from a Tea Party opponent who claims that Lugar has not actually lived in the state since he first entered the Senate in 1977.

“This scandal is our chance to replace one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate with a conservative!” said a fund-raising letter for Lugar’s opponent, Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer.

Lugar is actually a pretty conservative guy himself, although he is best known for his work on nuclear disarmament, which does not appear to be a Tea Party priority. The head of the right-wing PAC, Club for Growth, called for Lugar’s defeat the other day in a statement that denounced the senator for, among other things, having supported the bailout of New York City in 1978. I call that nursing a grudge.

Most of the publicity about the race, however, centers on the residency issue. Mourdock recently held a press conference at the house where Lugar has his voting address, and it definitely did seem to be occupied by another family.

“The entire state is his home,” retorted Lugar’s campaign manager. I am taking this to be a version of “So what?”

The senator’s ability to vote from a residence he hasn’t actually lived in for decades was, the campaign said, based on the same principle that allows a member of the military to vote from the last place he or she lived before going off to fight for the country. I’m not sure this is a comparison they’d want to press.

The issue of voting addresses is particularly sensitive in Indiana, where the secretary of state, Charlie White, was recently tossed out of office after being convicted of registering to vote at his former wife’s address while he actually lived with his fiancée. White, who once worked as a family law attorney, said his private life was “complicated,” which I’m sure we’re all prepared to believe.

Indiana is clearly a state with a lot of political excitement. Just recently, its State House voted in favor of drug-testing welfare recipients, which would not be all that remarkable except that the members also voted to drug-test themselves. “We had an amendment I thought was even better requiring drug testing for all corporate welfare recipients,” said Representative Ryan Dvorak, a Democrat from South Bend. That one, unfortunately, failed on a party-line vote.

But about the residency issue. These fights have been going on forever. One of the very first political investigations I ever worked on involved whether or not a veteran congressman maintained a voting address that was actually a Burger King outlet in North Haven, Conn.

Rick Santorum’s political career was built on an upset victory against a Democratic House member who, Santorum claimed, had lost touch with his district and moved his family to the Washington suburbs. When Santorum moved his own family to the Washington suburbs, he claimed that promises he made when he was in the House didn’t count for the Senate.

Then he enrolled the kids, who were being home-schooled, in a cyberschool that billed his old school district in Pennsylvania $38,000 a year.

“My dad’s opponents have criticized him for moving us to Washington so we could be with him more,” complained one of Santorum’s kids in an ad in 2006, shortly before he lost by one of the widest margins in the history of re-election campaigns. This was the same race in which Santorum claimed that his Democratic opponent, Robert Casey, was a “thug” who sent operatives to peep through the windows of the house near Pittsburgh where the senator maintained a voting address.

“Your despicable actions have endangered our children’s safety,” Santorum and his wife wrote to Casey. A Philadelphia Daily News columnist noted that the children in question were probably not in peril since they were, you know, in Virginia the whole time.

While serving in Congress is really, truly, not the same as serving in combat, these residency flaps are generally bogus. If we want a Congress that looks at least minimally like the country at large — including women, men with working wives, and parents of young children — we can’t carp if they want to keep their families within commuting distance.

Unless, of course, you are talking about somebody who got elected in the first place by running on the residency issue. Then carp away. Please.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 17, 2012

February 20, 2012 - Posted by | Congress, Voter Fraud | , , , , , , ,

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