By Eddie Celaya
When Ann Kirkpatrick faces off against Lea Marquez-Peterson for the right to represent Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District on Nov. 6, part of the decision for voters will hinge on how important they believe it is for a candidate to live in the district they represent.
If recent Arizona history is any indicator, the answer is “not very.”
During her Democratic primary, Kirkpatrick was the subject of a court case brought by three private citizens that challenged her claim of residency in CD2. The case was ultimately dismissed.
“Ann Kirkpatrick is a resident of Tucson, so that’s where she is,” Kirkpatrick campaign manager Rodd McLeod said of the case. “Most nights that’s where she puts her head on the pillow.”
The case against Kirkpatrick was supported financially by her main rival, former state representative Matt Heinz, who paid for the suit’s legal fees.
Heinz, however, is no stranger to living outside the area he represents, either. He lives south of CD2s Pima County boundaries, in CD3 according to reporting from the Arizona Daily Star.
Kirkpatrick also wasn’t alone in defending her residency status during this primary season.
Yuma Republican Don Shooter, running for a state senate seat, had a case brought against him claiming he too was living in Phoenix. Despite evidence Shooter had registered to vote in Phoenix and had shut off utilities to his Yuma-area home, his case was also dismissed.
Unlike Kirkpatrick, Shooter was unsuccessful in his primary race. Still, for Craig Morgan, the lawyer representing the citizens who brought the case against Kirkpatrick, the results of the Democratic CD2 and other recent Southern Arizona races are disheartening.
Candidate residency an issue?
For candidates running for federal office there is no constitutional mandate that requires they live in the district they represent, only that they reside in the state their district is in.
Under the constitution, however, Arizona does have the ability to set its own requirements on candidates, but it cannot require candidates live in the district they plan to represent. The case against Kirkpatrick was based on an Arizona statute that required candidates list their “primary” address on petition paperwork.
Morgan argued that while Kirkpatrick may reside in Pima County, she violated Arizona statute by listing two different primary addresses on her petition paperwork, a violation of state statute. Plus, his clients contended, Kirkpatrick’s actual residence was in Phoenix.
“The petitions themselves indicated an address where the client’s believed the candidate did not reside,” Morgan said.
While Morgan was able to show that Kirkpatrick and her husband do jointly own a house in Phoenix, Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers ultimately dismissed the case, citing evidence that included gas receipts and her “couple of months” membership with the Pima County Public Library.
For state legislative positions, the Arizona Constitution stipulates candidates must have lived in Arizona for three years and must be a resident of the county the district is located in for a year.
Even someone with no legal training can see there is gray area in both state and federal residency requirements, said Morgan.
So how common does Morgan believe the problem of candidates living outside the district they are running for office in is?
“It seems to me it comes up every election cycle,” Morgan said. “(It’s) not common in the sense every other candidate does it, but common enough that it comes up.”
That common re-occurrence is what bothers Morgan, and what should bother voters too, he said.
“I’m not sure that the electorate is as well educated about the issue as they ought to be,” he said.
Do voters care?
Xoe Watchman, head of voter registration at the University of Arizona for NextGen Arizona, said that, for young voters at least, where a candidate resides isn’t necessarily their first consideration, politically. Instead, she said the issue of a candidate’s residence is secondary.
“At the end of the day, if the candidate represents young people and the issues that affect them every day, that’s the candidate they are going to stand behind,” she said. “Where they live — as long as they are representing the young people — that’s where their votes will go to.”
Morgan disagrees. He said the issue of where a candidate lives is important. For him, when he considers voting, he said he considers how connected a candidate is to the community.
“I don’t think people understand how important it is that you really think about whether someone who isn’t in the trenches and isn’t a part of your community is really the best person to represent your community,” Morgan said.
For CD2 specifically, Pima County Democratic Chair Jo Holt sees voters as choosing between candidates based on the issues, not on if one candidate may have lived in Tucson longer or more recently.
“If that’s the only thing you can come up with to complain about [Kirkpatrick’s residency], then you’re basically saying that her policies are rational. She is a pragmatic individual that is very middle of the road I think,” Holt said. “I think she’ll be a great fit for CD2.”
Sue Mitchell, chair of the Cochise County Republican Party, disagreed.
“It’s very important,” a candidate live in the district, Mitchell said. “We call them carpetbaggers for a good reason.”
Mitchell said she was tangentially aware that Kirkpatrick’s residency was in question, and that she would make the issue wider known amongst local GOP-circles before the election. She also said the issue of a candidates residency was something voters should consider outside of this election.
“It’s something that’s important for all races, all races,” she said.
For Holt, the issue of Kirkpatrick’s residence is a moot point. She said that voters in CD2 would probably focus on three main issues: the state of the economy, healthcare and education.
“I believe the national polling actually places healthcare as more of a concern now than the economy and jobs for most Americans,” she said.
Watchman echoed Holt’s sentiments, and pushed back on Morgan’s claim that better education would make voters more aware of the question of residency. She argued voters, especially younger ones, were well versed on many issues including residency.
“It’s not to say that they don’t know, it’s representation versus not being represented,” Watchman said of voters not taking a candidate’s residency into account. “And young people are going to stand behind the person who represents them.”
Eddie Celaya is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.