Speaking of residency disputes in House races: KARK reports on some oppo research that has been making the rounds that Isaac Henry, a candidate for House District 37, may actually be a resident of another district. He has connections to two homes, but KARK reports that, at least by outward appearances, he seems to live with his family in a home that is in a neighboring district.
Henry, a former assistant to North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and the current director of the city’s Fit 2 Live program, is facing off in the Democratic primary against Jamie Scott of North Little Rock, the director of youth services for Pulaski County. Current Rep. Eddie Armstrong announced last fall that he would not seek
Henry and his family live — at least a good chunk of the time — in a house that his wife Tameka owns in North Little Rock that is located in a neighboring district, District 38. He and his family also spend time, he says, at a house owned by his uncle in District 37, where Henry is registered to vote (however, his voting status is listed as inactive, presumably because he did not return the voter information card sent to that address).
KARK reports that one of the properties seems to be more of a home:
The one in District 37 appears to have no inhabitants, with a blanket stuffing a shattered window and no answer at the door or from neighbors.
The house in District 38 looks like a family lives there, with a basketball hoop sitting in the driveway. After a knock went unanswered, a neighbor answered our question.
“Isaac Henry: great guy, nice guy, family man,” said Charles Mitchell, who lives across the street.
However, Mitchell cannot vote for Henry.
“If he ends up moving in the other district, I guess that’s where they’ll need him at,” Mitchell said. “But in the meantime, he’s a great neighbor.”
While this doesn’t prove anything, it is unavoidable in watching the video footage to notice that the District 38 property looks significantly nicer and larger than the District 37 property (see pictures below).
Henry told KARK that both homes are residences, describing an office in the District 37 home as his campaign “war room.” He said the family splits time between the two
A couch and TV furnish the front room, his office takes up the next and behind curtains, are three bedrooms. He filled the first with supplies, the second with a bunk bed and the third with a bed. …
“I spend the majority of my time here honestly,” he said.
Scott could try to file a lawsuit to get Henry off the ballot, but there has been no indication that she will do so. I suspect that if this was a battle between a Democrat and a Republican, this accusation would wind up in court, but things get stickier when you have an intra-party squabble in a primary. While there is no evidence that Scott or her campaign directly shopped this around, it does seem like someone has concluded that the best way to approach this issue is to litigate in the media rather than the courtroom.
Scott released the following statement to KARK:
This race is about the people who live in House District 37; it is not about me or my opponent. Since the day I announced my candidacy for the House of Representatives, I have focused on running a positive campaign to improve education standards, build up our infrastructure, and bring good-paying jobs to District 37. I take this work seriously. That is why I have filed timely reports and met all legal requirements. I spend every moment I can making calls, knocking on doors, and meeting voters. District 37 is my home and when this campaign is over, I want to represent every resident of the district.
The Arkansas Constitution demands that members of the General Assembly must be residents of their district for at least one year preceding their election. The particulars of Henry’s situation do seem to leave room for a legal challenge. The lawsuit that was filed against Rep. Marcus Richmond yesterday, for example, argues that residence has been established by the courts as meaning a permanent home and domicile. The law on voter qualification (a separate but plausibly related issue) states that a person can only have one domicile at a time and “a change in domicile is made only by the act of abandonment, joined with the intent to remain in another place.” A lawsuit could argue, as it does in the Richmond challenge, that Henry must sell and abandon the home in District 38 and have no intent to return in order to establish the District 37 property as his residence.
In 2000, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that J.F. Valley was ineligible for the ballot in a Democratic primary in a somewhat similar residency challenge lodged by his opponent, State Rep. Arnell Willis:
“The focus here is on the word “resided.” In Charisse v. Eldred, 252 Ark. 101, 102-03, 477 S.W.2d 480, 480 (1972), we said that, “[i]n determining qualifications of voters and public officials, the word ‘residence’ has usually been treated as if it were synonymous with ‘domicile’ and dependent to some extent upon the intention of the person involved.” “The determination of residence is a question of intention, to be ascertained not only by the statements of the person involved, but also from his conduct concerning the matter of residence.” Phillips v. Melton, 222 Ark. 162, 164, 257 S.W.2d 931, 932 (1953).”
That case ended up hinging on
Here’s the Henry family’s home in District 38:
Here’s the home in District 37 that Henry listed as his residence in his candidate filing: