The Texas Election Law blog looks at my coverage of the Dave Wilson residency saga and offers his thoughts on the matter.
The saga of gaming residence for the sake of running for office – what a tangle of legal precedent it provides. Mr. Kuffner has used the occasion of the Wilson lawsuit to suggest some sort of legal reform to our statutory definition of residence, mindful of the weeds and quicksand. Mr. Kuffner’s suggestion is to treat an out-of-territory homestead exemption as a bar to holding office within a territory (assuming the jurisdiction in question has a residence requirement for holding office).
I. IS DOMICILE THAT IMPORTANT?
I guess another way to ask the question is to ask why a person’s domicile is important to office holding, voting, paying taxes, or what-have-you. The short answer is that domicile isn’t important, except when we want it to be important.
I bring all this up as a reminder that there’s no inherent necessity to link residence with office. If we do make a requirement that someone has to consider a district their “home” in order to represent that district, such a policy choice is just that – a choice. Supporters of such requirements would likely argue that members of … say for example … the Houston Community College District Board of Trustees … should be residents of the community college district so that they will be personally invested in the problems and conditions of the district, forced by geographic proximity to share the experience of living in the Houston Community College District. We certainly don’t want those outsiders and strangers who live across the street from the Community College District to come in and impose their seditious ideologies and strange ways, do we?
II. RESIDENCE REQUIREMENTS MIGHT BE A LITTLE ARBITRARY, BUT SO WHAT? GIVEN THAT SUCH REQUIREMENTS DO EXIST FOR MOST LOCAL ELECTIVE OFFICES, HOW DO WE DEFINE THOSE REQUIREMENTS FAIRLY?
Well, what is “fair?” I mean, any definition of domicile will involve some subjective standard for determining the sincerity of a person’s … hearth-cleaving. (Hearth-cleaving is my made-up term for domiciliary intent; it means, “emotional and physical ties to the one place in all the world that is home.”)
Legislatures, disgruntled losing candidates, judges, juries, voters, and angry political rivals have searched high and low for some universally applicable sure-fire objective test or standard for hearth-cleaving that would guarantee the exclusion of the carpetbagging outsider from office. But for every bright line test, there will come some sympathetic officeholder whose exclusion is unfair. Because there is really just one test underlying all these tests of domicile and residence. Is the candidate or officeholder one of us, or is the candidate or officeholder not one of us?
III. SO, TO SUM UP, RESIDENCE REQUIREMENTS ARE ARBITRARY, SUBJECTIVE, AND A SOURCE OF ENDLESS FACTUAL DISPUTE, AND THEY ALWAYS WILL BE, AND THAT’S JUST INHERENT IN THE IDEA OF HOME, COMMUNITY, AND BELONGING OR NOT BELONGING TO A PLACE?
Fair enough. As I’ve said, at least we now have a standard for our residency requirements, and clearly that standard is pretty loose. It’s loose enough that one could certainly make a reasonable case that they have no meaning and we ought to get rid of them. I’ve already expressed my preference for having some kind of meaningful requirement, and as the TELB notes you know what I would like to see done about it. Your mileage may vary on that, and while I can see the appeal of leaving this as a campaign issue rather than a legal issue, that’s not my first choice. This is why we have elections, I suppose.
I’ll stipulate that I was driven in part by animus for Dave Wilson, a man who has richly earned the animus of many, many people. It’s also about my dislike of people who are not residents of Houston but are nonetheless hellbent on meddling in its political affairs. I get the argument that some people have made that they work here, they own businesses here, and so forth. I get it, I’m just not persuaded by it. Some arguments can be settled by existing laws, empirical data, analogous examples, or cold hard logic. This isn’t one of those arguments. This is how I see it, and I make no apologies for that. If you don’t see it the same way, that’s fine. I’m not claiming that I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m just stating my preference, with which you’re welcome to disagree. I’m okay with that, and I hope you are, too.