Candidates run for Congress despite home address

Some don't live in district they seek to represent

January 15, 2012|By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

All politics is local. All candidates for Congress are not.

At least eight candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland — including four prominent contenders — are running this year in congressional districts that do not encompass their own homes, a review of property records and recent candidate filings shows.

Some live close enough to stroll into the district they are vying to represent. Others are more than an hour's drive away.

Federal candidates are not required to live where they run for office. Many incumbents in Congress from far-flung states buy homes in the Washington region, for instance, to avoid long commutes. But candidates who live outside their districts are nevertheless vulnerable to attack from political opponents, and Maryland has a long history of politicians who have raised voter ire by not living where their constituents do.

Del. Richard K. Impallaria is one of three state legislators running for Congress this year from outside the district where he lives. The Harford County Republican announced this month he will seek his party's nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

While his ambitions lie in the 2nd District, his home is nine-tenths of a mile inside the 1st District, a seat which is held by fellow Republican Rep. Andy Harris. Noting the recent statewide redistricting that changed all congressional boundaries, Impallaria said he didn't know he lived in a new district until contacted by The Baltimore Sun.

"We were paying so much attention to the map for the House of Delegates and the Senate that we just didn't realize it," he said, adding that he owns a second home and a business in Ruppersberger's district and that he represents many of its voters in the General Assembly.

"I don't think it makes a difference," Impallaria said. "I'm still very deeply rooted there."

Western Maryland's 6th District, which is shaping up to be the state's most significant political battle of 2012, has drawn at least four candidates from outside its boundaries to take on 10-term incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican.

Some point out that they had lived in the old district for years before last year's boundary changes and they blame Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who proposed the new map, for their quandary. Others say they believe it's not a big deal for voters, particularly in cases where candidates are well-known.

Financier John Delaney, a Potomac Democrat who is engaged in an already testy race leading up to the state's April 3 primary, lives about two-tenths of a mile outside the 6th District. Two Republican state lawmakers who are vying for the same seat — Sen. David R. Brinkley and Del. Kathy L. Afzali — actually live in the 8th District, represented by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat.

"I don't think it will be a factor," said Afzali, who said she still holds hope the lines will be redrawn if opponents of the new map can collect enough signatures to put it up for referendum on the 2014 ballot.

"My house was moved from my district," she said, adding that she would consider moving into the newly drawn district if elected.

"Voters care about jobs, not inside deals," said Delaney spokeswoman Katie Burnham. "We are concerned about jobs and the economy and the issues that voters care about…not the fact that John lives two blocks from the line."

Asked about his residency during the announcement of his candidacy in Frederick this month, Brinkley said he doesn't see it as a problem, either. His campaign issued a statement Friday noting that, until it was redrawn, Brinkley had lived in the 6th District for more than five decades.

"Some candidates prefer to abide by Martin O'Malley's power-grabbing, self-serving, community-dividing, partisan lines," he said. "I prefer to follow the Constitution."

The congressional maps have survived a federal court challenge.

Maryland's highest court has taken a liberal view of residency for elected officials. In 1998, it allowed State Sen. Clarence Blount to continue to represent Baltimore even though he lived in Pikesville while keeping a barebones apartment in the city. From a legal standpoint, home is where an elected official says it is, the court ruled.

But it's less clear whether voters hold that same lenient view. Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania who is currently seeking the GOP nomination for president, came under fire for claiming in 2004 he lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh when he and his family spent most of their time in Virginia. Closer to home, two-term Baltimore City Council member Belinda Conaway lost her election last year following questions about her residency.

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