District residency not required for congressional candidates

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Jan. 8, 2018 at 9:48 p.m.
Updated Jan. 9, 2018 at 6 a.m.

   J.R. Ortega/jrortega@vicad.com for The Victoria Advocate

Some Victoria voters may be a little surprised to learn a candidate vying to represent them in Congress doesn't actually have to live in their district.

When it comes to local elected positions, most candidates are required to live in the places they want to represent by holding office.

But to run for a U.S. Congress seat, candidates just have to live in the state - there's no requirement that they must live in communities they want to represent.

"If somebody lived in Dallas and wanted to run down here, I guess they technically could," said Pat Tally, Victoria County Democratic Party chairwoman.

On the primary ballot for 2018, two of 10 candidates vying to replace U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold aren't living in the 27th Congressional District, which stretches across the Texas Gulf Coast around Corpus Christi and snakes north toward Austin. Two candidates running for the seat live in Houston, while two others were working out of the area until recently.

"You don't think of these things until something like this comes up," said Bill Pozzi, chairman of the Victoria County Republican Party. "I was very surprised to see that there was no requirement."

To run for Congress, the U.S. Constitution only requires that a candidate be an "inhabitant" of the state, at least 25 years old and a U.S. citizen for at least seven years.

"The district system didn't exist when the Constitution was written," said former Victoria County GOP chairman Michael Cloud, a candidate seeking Farenthold's seat.

Centuries later, the lack of requirement hasn't changed, said Cloud.

Despite that fact, voters often expect their representatives to be from their communities, he said.

"Certainly the essence of the Constitution and the framers is that people should be represented by people in their area that have common interests and, certainly, have lived and worked among them," said Cloud.

In the race for Texas' 27th Congressional District, Democratic candidate Vanessa Edwards Foster, a transgender activist from Houston, is vying for the seat, along with Republican John Grunwald, who said he's been living in Houston after his home in Egypt, in Wharton County, was damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

Democratic candidate Eric Holguin, a South Texas native, was living in New York until moving back to Corpus Christi in September.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Bech Bruun, who's currently a Rockport resident, was working in Austin and serving on the Texas Water Development Board until he resigned in early December, he said.

Tally, Victoria's Democratic Party chairwoman, said the topic of candidates' residency is further complicated by the fact that courts have ruled that the 27th Congressional District was "gerrymandered," which means elected officials redrew political maps to include fewer or more Democrat or Republican voters to rig elections in their favor.

In spring 2017, federal judges in San Antonio ruled Texas intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters when drawing its 2011 congressional map. The judges said three of Texas' 36 districts violated the Voting Rights Act or U.S. Constitution.

The 27th Congressional District is shaped like a backward "L" and covers both rural and urban areas. Even though someone may not live within the districts' boundaries, they might be a more qualified candidate for the region, she said.

"The issue is: Are you representing the economic and the social issues of the district, whether you live in it or not?" said Tally.


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