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Appeals court upholds Wilson residency ruling

No surprise.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

A state appeals court has sided with Houston Community College Trustee Dave Wilson in a lengthy legal fight over whether he lives in the district he represents.

Ever since Wilson was elected to the HCC board in 2013, the Harris County Attorney’s office has argued that he did not actually live in the district when he ran to represent it.

At issue is whether Wilson lived in an apartment in a warehouse on West 34th Street or with his wife at a home outside the district, which he has listed on tax forms. In 2014, a jury unanimously determined Wilson lived at the 34th Street address. A judge later upheld the ruling, and now the state appeals court has done the same.

“The State…did not conclusively establish that Wilson did not reside at West 34th Street on November 5, 2013,” the ruling says. “Wilson, on the other hand, presented evidence that he started living at the West 34th Street property in early 2012; that he intends for that property to be his residence; that he spends most of his time at that property, including sleeping there five nights a week; that he keeps personal belongings and receives personal mail at that address; and that while he spends two nights a week at the Lake Lane house, he always returns to the West 34th Street property.”

[…]

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan said in a statement that he was disappointed by the court’s ruling, but not surprised, because ” ‘residency’ as the court outlines, is basically where one says he or she lives with relatively insignificant requirements to establish that residency under the law.”

See here and here for the background. I appreciate the County Attorney pursuing this, but we are at the end of the line. Any further pursuit of this matter should be in the Legislature, an option Vince Ryan alluded to in his statement. We’ve discussed this before, and at this point I’d favor an approach that says 1) you can’t claim a homestead exemption at one address and a voter registration at another, and 2) you can’t claim a homestead exemption in one taxing entity (city, county, school district, etc) and run for office in another. No approach to this is foolproof, but this would at least attach a cost to the “I live where I say I live” shenanigans, and that may be the best we can do.

On a side note, I wonder if the absolute thrashing Wilson got in his attempt to knock off Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148 – she beat him by an 88.1 to 11.9 margin, which is the kind of spread one normally sees when a candidate has only third-party opposition – is partly the result of all the publicity Wilson has reaped from his fluke election to the HCC Board in 2013 and the subsequent attempts to disqualify him. He can’t operate in the shadows the way he used to, because now many more people know who he is and what he’s about. If so, then that’s one positive thing that has come out of this mess.

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6 Comments

  1. horsey dorsey says:

    Any such bill is DOA in the Lege. There are a number of members who do not “really” live in their districts. Just as there have been (and may be now) members of the Houston City Council that do not “really” live in their districts. Or even in the City of Houston!

  2. Making someone live in the district before the election is so arbitrary.

    Might as well flip a coin.

    When people are more worried about where candidates live than actual ideas and solutions.
    We have bigger problems.

    We get the government we deserve.

  3. Mainstream says:

    It would be a radical solution, but we could do away with residency requirements altogether, and let the voters decide if they want someone from their community to be their representative, or as Joe suggests want someone effective who shares their ideas. The only risk of this approach is that a wealthy candidate might overwhelm someone local in low-income districts. Britain’s members of parliament are not expected to live in the districts they “represent.”

  4. voter_worker says:

    As an interesting side-note, voters are also loosely bound to districts. Anyone unhappy with their Congressional district, for example, can simply register to vote in one more to their liking. I don’t know if any voters are doing this intentionally, but it’s simple to do.

  5. Mainstream says:

    Voter-Worker, your statement is unclear to me. While congressional candidates are only required by the Constitution to live in the state, not in the district, I would have expected that only voters who claim domicile/residence in a district could vote in that district.

  6. voter_worker says:

    Mainstream-any voter can update their address to any address in the county. No one will question whether or not you reside there. If you were to register where you work it’s likely that at least some of the districts attached to that address will differ from those at your residence. I was pointing out that a particularly aware voter could intentionally do this if they wished to vote in a district in which they don’t reside.