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Landrieu Survives Residency Challenge--for the Time Being

Article I Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution reads:

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. >

Louisiana state representative Paul Hollis went to court to disqualify Sen. Mary Landrieu from running for reelection on the grounds that she is not an inhabitant of Louisiana, despite her deep family roots there (her father was mayor of New Orleans and her brother currently is). Yesterday a state district judge, Wilson Fields, threw out the suit saying that it is premature. The article says "when elected" and he interpreted that to mean her residency on election day is what counts. Whether she is or is not an inhabitant now does not matter according to the judge. Logically, the question ought to have come up was she a resident on election day in 2008, but it didn't. At the moment, Landrieu is registered to vote at the house she grew up in. Landrieu currently co-owns it with her mother and her eight siblings. Hollis can wait until election day to appeal the judge's ruling although winning the case will be an uphill battle. She co-owns property in her home state and also has a house in D.C. Many senators are in the same situation. Ultimately, any case like this will come down to what "inhabitant" means precisely. If it means sleeps in the state at least 183 nights a year, the entire Senate will be reduced to four members: the senators from Virginia and Maryland. Since all four of them are Democrats, a four-member Senate might be able to get things done.

This kind of argument comes up regularly. Democrats have accused Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) of not being an inhabitant of Kansas because he doesn't own property there. When he visits the state, he stays with friends or in a hotel. Members of Congress are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If a member doesn't have a house in his or her state and spend a lot of time there, the opposition says he or she has gone native and no longer represents the state's "values." If the member is there all the time, then he or she is not working hard enough in Congress. There is no way to win. Also an issue here is cost. While a senator earns $174,000 a year, having to pay two mortgages plus paying for endless trips back and forth takes a sizable chunk out of that. The government pays for 12 trips back home a year, but the rest come out of the member's pocket. Most members go home multiple times per month.

An argument Hollis didn't make was that the last four words of the section are: "he shall be chosen." It doesn't say "he or she shall be chosen." He could have argued that women can't be senators. The 19th amendment to the Constitution reads:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It doesn't mention anything about women being senators, just as it doesn't define "inhabitant." 200 years ago nobody lived full-time in D.C. It was a mosquito-infested swamp. Senators then got in a stagecoach, rode to D.C., passed a few laws, and went home. Trying to literally apply words written over 200 years ago to the modern world is a bit tricky.

McDonnell Conviction Could Have Far-Reaching Consequences

The trial and subsequent conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell this week could have reverberations around the country. McDonnell and his wife accepted $177,000 worth of gifts from a Virginia businessman, Jonnie Williams, who was trying to enlist the governor to help sell his diet supplements made from tobacco. McDonnell tried to defend himself by claiming his wife was the one who accepted all the gifts and the two weren't talking to each other so it wasn't his fault. The jury didn't buy this "blame the wife" defense and found them both guilty, and surprisingly quickly.

But there is another aspect to the case that hasn't reported so much, although the Washington Post has a story on it today. To prove McDonnell guilty of corruption, the prosecution had to prove two things. First, that he received money or gifts from someone and second that the governor performed some official act for the donor that he wouldn't have done otherwise. In other words, if Williams showered gifts on the McDonnells and got nothing in return but a few Thank You cards, that is not a crime. It is only a crime if he got something of value in return. The key part of the defense was claiming that Williams didn't get anything in return so there was no crime committed. What did McDonnell do for Williams? He arranged meetings with top state officials. But McDonnell said that he would do this for any Virginia business. That is possibly true as most governors do try to help businesses in their state. Where it gets dicier is that McDonnell also allowed Williams to use the governor's mansion for holding an event to push his product. That is not something he would probably do for any business that asked for it.

Other prosecutors and politicians are no doubt looking very closely at this aspect of it. How much can a politician do for a donor before it becomes corruption? Case in point: suppose the governor of a state wants to help a donor by getting a mayor in his state to approve a development plan the donor wants approved. He sends his lieutenant governor to talk to the mayor to suggest that some state money might be coming to her city should she decided to approve the development. Is this corruption or a governor merely making a lawful decision about how to spend money under his control? The McDonnell case opens the possibility of a broader interpretation of what constitutes an official act than before. The case just cited is not hypothetical. The mayor of Hoboken, NJ, Dawn Zimmer, has stated that Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) wanted her to approve a certain development plan and getting money to repair Hoboken after Hurricane Sandy was contingent on her approval. Is this just a governor using pressure to get what he wants or is it a federal crime?

Stupid bribers want a clear deal: I will give you X and you will do Y. Smarter ones are content with a wink and a nod. What the McDonnell case now does is show that the act the politician does in return for the gift need not be an official one. Any act that helps the donor could be construed as quid pro quo.

Christie Loses Bet in Atlantic City

In 2012, the 57-story Revel hotel and casino opened in Atlantic City, with its biggest bettor being Gov. Chris Christie who bet the $2.4 billion project would revive the city. It didn't. In fact, it closed last weekend. Christie had promised the people of New Jersey that it would generate 5000 permanent jobs, all of which are now lost. If he manages to get through his current scandals (bridgegate, Pulaskigate, and Hobokengate), he will still have to explain this to the voters. In conservative states, like Iowa and South Carolina, gambling is a sin to start with and the government shouldn't abet it. In more libertarian states, like New Hampshire, state governments shouldn't get involved in private development efforts like this. No matter how you spin it, this just means more trouble for Christie and makes a presidential run even harder.

Voting Restrictions Are in Place in Eight States

Eight states have made it harder to vote than it was in 2012. For example, in Georgia, the early voting period has shrunk from 45 days to 21 days. On paper, this should hurt the Democrats, who make much more use of early voting than do Republicans. So this should work against the candidacies of Michelle Nunn who is running for the Senate and Jason Carter, who is running for governor. However, there is also something of a reverse effect, as the Democratic constituencies most affected by the restrictions, such as minorities, may be angered by what they perceive as an attempt to take their vote away, making them more likely to vote. In North Carolina, the Republican candidate for the Senate, Thom Tillis, is the house speaker who shepherded a bill through the legislature reducing the early voting days from 17 to 10. People who don't like the shortened period have a very clear way to send him a message now.

In states where Democrats control the state government, the reverse process is taking place. Colorado has become the third state (after Oregon and Washington) to run the election entirely by mail. On Oct. 13, every registered voter in the state will be sent an absentee ballot, without requesting it. California, Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Utah, and New Jersey are looking closely at the idea and might adopt it. In 2012, the turnout of registered voters nationwide was 59%. In Oregon it was 64% and in Washington it was 65%, suggesting that mail-in votes raise turnout.

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Arkansas Mark Pryor* 47% Tom Cotton 49%     Aug 28 Sep 02 ORC International
Colorado Mark Udall* 44% Cory Gardner 42%     Sep 03 Sep 04 Rasmussen
Oklahoma Matt Silverstein 27% James Inhofe* 59%     Aug 28 Aug 30 Sooner Poll
Oregon Jeff Merkley* 48% Monica Wehby 35%     Sep 02 Sep 03 Rasmussen

* Denotes incumbent

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