The fallout of former Attorney General John Swallow’s scandal, resignation and the appointment of a new AG continues to reflect in bills filed in the 2014 Legislature.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has introduced SB90, a bill specifically aimed at the residency controversy that basically helped end the short campaigns of three GOP attorney general appointees.
Ultimately, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert appointed Sean Reyes – who lost to Swallow in a June 2012 party primary – to the attorney general post.
But for the short weeks that Republican attorneys were lining up before the state GOP Central Committee to be voted upon for the appointment, at least three hopefuls ultimately had their Utah residency questioned and one dropped out of the race over the issue.
“I basically vetted these candidates for the party,” said Weiler, who himself is an attorney and a former state party vice-chairman. And in the end, said Weiler, state election officials also considered his advice on the residency of Scott Burns, Brent Ward and Michelle Mumford – who all announced they were running for the AG appointment.
Ward, a former U.S. attorney for Utah, said he believed he could have fought and won a residency battle in Utah courts, but decided not to. He stepped out of the race.
But Burns and Mumford stayed in, and were ultimately eliminated in the CC vote.
Weiler said for years state elections officials have had a tough time deciding who was really a Utah resident and who was not in regards to possible candidates or officeholders who had moved out of their districts.
(Utah law says that legislators have to “reside” in their districts in order to run and serve.)
Some weird things have happened over the years.
One Democratic senator moved to Wyoming to work in the oil fields, but refused to resign, saying he often came back home to visit.
A GOP House member built a new home outside of his district. His wife moved into the new home. He rented out his old home and claimed he was living in a basement bedroom to keep his residency.
But the new renter told the media rarely, if ever, did the legislator spend a night in the basement bedroom. The lawmaker resigned his post after his own party started a residency investigation.
Any number of potential legislative candidates have had to get out of their races after their opponents claimed they really didn’t live in their districts, or had moved into the districts later than current law required for residency requirements.
Burns lived back east for years working in Washington, D.C., but said because he voted in Utah, he really was a resident here.
Ward admitted to voting once back in Virginia; but still claimed he was a Utah resident and could be appointed AG.
Mumford said she had lived in California, but had come home to Utah during Christmas, and so that should count towards her six months in Utah residency requirement, said Weiler.
Weiler said if one of the three had been appointed AG by Herbert from the three names sent up by the Central Committee, the Utah Democratic Party may well have sued – and could have won – their case in court.
Thus embarrassing state party Republicans even more over the whole Swallow mess.
SB90 specifically says that if a person votes in another state or district, then he can’t claim he is a resident in Utah at the same time.
It also attempts to define “principle place of residence.”
That is defined as: "the single location where a person's habitation is fixed and to which, whenever the person is absent, the person has the intention of returning.
(b) "Resident" means a person whose principal place of residence is within a specific voting precinct in Utah.
Some years ago, a GOP candidate for the Utah House owned an old mansion on Capitol Hill. He lived out south in the county, but didn’t want to run for office from that address.
So he said he address was the old mansion, which, oddly enough, was being gutted for renovation. A media reporter asked the candidate if he really lived in the gutted mansion.
“Well,” he said. “I may not flush the toilet at 3 a.m. there, but I consider that residence my home.”
The incumbent Democrat threatened to sue.
GOP officials didn’t want that Republican candidate to be their nominee, only to lose in court and the Republicans not have a candidate in that race.
So he got out. The Democrat won anyway.
“I don’t know” if SB90 “will solve all the problems of residency,” said Weiler. But it likely would have stopped the three GOP AG candidates from claiming they were Utah residents in regards to the AG appointment.
Ultimately, it may take a state judge to rule on the language of SB90 in state law, said Weiler.
He hopes SB90 will help party officials and the Utah Election Office to better understand and enforce candidate and officeholder residency requirements.