September 13, 2007
(Not) in residency

The Chron has a front page story today about two candidates for the crowded At Large #5 race who may or may not actually live in Houston, depending on how you look at it.

City Council candidates Zafar Tahir and Jack Christie each claim homes inside and outside Houston.

But where do they really live? That's debatable.

The candidates, among a crowded field in the At-Large Position 5 race, claim residency at properties inside the city that were leased last November -- just in time to meet the city's legal deadline for election eligibility. But they also admit to spending some nights in their properties outside Houston.

"A cynical view of this could be that these two gentlemen, if they are in a runoff together, would be the 'clash of carpetbaggers,' " said Paul Bettencourt, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector.

The candidates' presence on the November ballot could be technically legitimate, given Texas' lenient court precedent on residency, but their dueling addresses may raise eyebrows as a political issue, observers say.

According to the in-city leases released by the candidates, Tahir and Christie appear to comply narrowly with a city law requiring candidates to be Houston residents for a year by Election Day.

But both men, who say they have long-standing ties to Houston and a desire to serve, have left a trail of public records that raise questions about their individual claims of city residency.

You can read the details of those questions if you want. While I agree this is news, I'm not sure it's front page news, at least not unless someone is going to formally challenge the "technical" legitimacy of their places on the ballot. Where a candidate lives is an issue that generally doesn't rank all that high up for me. It would seem I'm not alone in thinking that, too:

Local political scientists say issues of residency rarely sway large numbers of voters to reject a candidate.

Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said residency is less important in crowded council races. But it can be wielded to attack an opponent in a runoff election.

How much effect such an attack might have also isn't clear.

"Generally speaking, I don't think (voters) really care," said Jon Taylor, who chairs the political science department at the University of St. Thomas. "I could see it in a close race making a slight difference."

Those are the last four paragraphs of the story, which kinda sorta make me wonder again why this was on the front page. And why Bettencourt's "cynical" quote was so much more prominent.

I should note there was a recent election in which the residency question was a big issue. I'm referring to the November, 2005, special election in HD143 to replace the late Joe Moreno. Candidate Laura Salinas, who wound up in a runoff with the eventual winner, Ana Hernandez, made a lot of noise during the campaign about how she was the only actual resident of HD143 in the race. I couldn't say how much that affected people's votes - Salinas and Hernandez are both Democrats, and there wasn't all that much difference that I can recall in their positions on items like education - but the bottom line is that Ana Hernandez is now the State Representative for HD143, and Laura Salinas isn't. Make of that what you will.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 13, 2007 to Election 2007

Frankly, I was stunned to hear that it is NOT a big deal. I have little use for a politician who cannot seem to find a single suitable home in Houston's 630 square miles, but now wants to come tell me how it's going to be. Since this is an at-large position, I will make sure to note residency when I vote.

Holy cow, did I just agree with Paul Bettencourt?

Posted by: RedScare on September 14, 2007 9:59 AM