Giv­ing leg­is­la­tors a free pass to break state’s res­i­dency rules

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Issues & Ideas - BY DAN WAL­TERS CAL mat­ters con­clu­sively

Eq­uity and logic would seem to dic­tate that state leg­is­la­tors should live in the dis­tricts they rep­re­sent and thereby share in the daily ex­pe­ri­ences and tri­als faced by con­stituents. State law has said as much for decades, though fed­eral law does not re­quire Con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives to live among those they rep­re­sent.

From time to time, in­di­vid­ual state law­mak­ers have been caught liv­ing some­where other than the dis­trict in which they’re reg­is­tered to vote – usu­ally by their op­po­nents or re­porters.

Five years ago, for in­stance, a Sacra­mento Bee re­porter shad- owed Richard Pan, a Sacra­mento leg­is­la­tor, and found that af­ter the bound­aries of his As­sem­bly dis­trict were al­tered by post-2010 cen­sus re­dis­trict­ing, he claimed a condo inside the new bound­aries as his “le­gal domi­cile” but ac­tu­ally lived with his fam­ily out­side the dis­trict. As with most other such rev­e­la­tions, noth­ing hap­pened to Pan. He went on to win a seat in the state Se­nate.

Rod Wright, a state se­na­tor from Los An­ge­les, was not so lucky. In 2010, a grand jury in­dicted Wright on eight counts of fil­ing a false dec­la­ra­tion of can­di­dacy, voter fraud and per­jury, al­leg­ing he didn’t live where he was reg­is­tered to vote in his dis­trict. Four years later, he was con­victed, sen­tenced to 90 days in jail (he spent a to­tal of 71 hours be­hind bars) and was forced to re­sign.

Oth­ers have listed va­ca­tion homes or time-shares as their main home, de­spite not liv­ing on the premises.

But last Au­gust, in the dy­ing mo­ments of the 2018 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved a bill that would make all this a moot point. The bill will make fu­ture pros­e­cu­tions of politi­cians for mis­stat­ing their true places of res­i­dence al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Build­ing on a 1984 law with the same goal, the new leg­is­la­tion, Se­nate Bill 1250, ba­si­cally said that wher­ever a politi­cian reg­is­tered to vote would be

deemed to be his or her domi­cile. It spec­i­fied a long list of fac­tors, such as claim­ing a home­owner’s tax ex­emp­tion for an­other home, that could not be cited to prove oth­er­wise.

“This bill is about al­low­ing all leg­is­la­tors, who must travel and live in our state cap­i­tal, to be ef­fec­tive lead­ers for our rep­re­sen­ta­tive dis­tricts with­out the fear of be­ing tar­geted by overzeal­ous pros­e­cu­tors or po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries,” the mea­sure’s au­thor, Sen. Steven Brad­ford, a Los An­ge­les Demo­crat, wrote in a let­ter sup­port­ing the mea­sure.

Gov. Jerry Brown not only signed SB 1250, but on the day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing in­cluded Wright in a long list of con­victed felons granted gu­ber­na­to­rial par­dons. Brown also par­doned Wright for a 1972 felony con­vic­tion for auto theft when he was 19.

“I’m elated,” Wright said. “It truly is a day of Thanks­giv­ing for me.”

He had con­tended that the old law un­der which he was pros­e­cuted was am­bigu­ous.

Though he had to re­sign from the Se­nate, Wright is off the le­gal hook, join­ing other leg­is­la­tors, such as Pan, who have flouted the res­i­dency law with­out penalty.

It should be noted that while Democrats en­acted SB 1250 (and Gov. Brown signed it),

their party’s lead­ers tried this year to make res­i­dency an is­sue against Tom McClin­tock – a Repub­li­can con­gress­man from the Sacra­mento area who lives out­side his vast Mother Lode dis­trict.

“In 10 years, Tom McClin­tock has never voted for him­self, be­cause he doesn’t live in our dis­trict,” the nar­ra­tor of an anti-McClin­tock video said as pic­tures of the con­gress­man flashed on the screen.

The Leg­is­la­ture could have gone the other way, elim­i­nat­ing any am­bi­gu­ity about res­i­dence in the pre­vi­ous law by mak­ing the re­quire­ment to live in one’s dis­trict ab­so­lute.

In­stead, Se­nate Bill 1250 is a vir­tual in­vi­ta­tion for politi­cians to claim bo­gus res­i­dences as their of­fi­cial domi­ciles – ef­fec­tively gain­ing the same du­bi­ous priv­i­lege that McClin­tock and other mem­bers of Con­gress en­joy.

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