Disputes over residency are erupting in a few House races, with each party’s attorneys bringing a lawsuit this week aiming to try to oust an opposing candidate from the ballot.
The executive director of the state Republican Party filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court to remove Democrat Morgan Wiles from the ballot, alleging that he does not live in the district. Wiles is challenging incumbent Rep. Richard Womack (R-Arkadelphia) for the District 18 seat, which includes parts of Clark, Dallas, Garland and Hot Spring counties.
An attorney for the state Democratic Party, meanwhile, yesterday filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of a citizen in District 21, which includes parts of Garland, Montgomery, Perry, Polk, Sebastian, Scott and Yell counties. The suit asks that Rep. Marcus Richmond, the Republican incumbent, be removed from the ballot, alleging that he used the address of a dog breeding registry he’s affiliated with to try to sneak into the district when he actually lives in a different district. Richmond, who was recently tapped to be the GOP House Majority Leader, is being challenged by Democrat Stele James of Gravelly.
Here’s the detective work the oppo squads turned up for the courts: The GOP lawsuit states that Wiles listed his permanent address as a location on 9th St. in Mountain Pine, but his name does not appear on the current property tax records for that address. The current owner is someone named Arvie Wiles, according to the lawsuit, a fact I mention mostly because that is a delightful name. The lawsuit states that on voter registration records, Morgan Wiles’ address is listed as a Hot Springs location that is not in the district. That property was purchased by Morfe Properties in 2016.
The gist of the suit is that Wiles doesn’t own the property he listed as his residence (that would be Arvie, presumably a family member), but his company owns a property that was listed as his residence on his previous voter registration. This seems like thin gruel to me, but who knows. Wiles told the D-G he had copies of the lease and utility bills at the Mountain Pine property (where he presumably rents), and that he has lived there off and on for seven years.
The Democratic Party predicted the lawsuit against Wiles will be dismissed. Yesterday, an attorney for the party brought a different lawsuit on behalf of Michael Forrester, a registered voter in Scott County, in District 21, against Rep. Marcus Richmond.
The lawsuit alleges that Richmond has not been a resident of the district but rather resides with his wife at a house which they own together on Lady Bug Lane in Harvey, at an address located in District 74. Richmond has tried to squeeze himself into the district using the address of a dog breeding registry business that he is affiliated with, according to the lawsuit, even as he lives in and pays taxes on his actual family home in another district.
Richmond is registered to vote at an address in Harvey on S & G Circle Lane, which is in the district and which Richmond listed as his address on his candidate filing. But the lawsuit alleges that Yell County land records show that Richmond does not live in or own the land at that address. The S & G circle property instead serves as an office building for America’s Pet Registry, the family-owned business where Richmond served as CEO until his wife took over. The property is owned by Sheila and Garry Garner, who are also affiliated with the company. The dog business building, according to the lawsuit, is not Richmond’s residence at all.
“The land records prove there is no such residence at 10509 S&G Circle Lane that Marcus Richmond resides in, owns or pays taxes upon as his family home and residence,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, Marcus Richmond owns and pays taxes on
his family home in Scott County in District 74.”
Further muddying the waters, for his part, Richmond told the D-G that he moved into the district in 2013 to an entirely different location, in Gravelly, where he and his wife live in a house they rent on Highway 28. They periodically go back to the family home they own in District 74 for business purposes because they get better cell reception there, he said. However, Richmond listed the dog business building as his address on his candidate filing with the Secretary of State’s office, not the rental property in Gravelly.
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 lawsuit against Richmond argues that residence has been established by the courts as meaning a permanent home and domicile. Because the law on voter qualification 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,” the lawsuit argues that, “To have had changed his permanent home and domicile, Marcus Richmond must have had sold and abandoned his District 74 home, and intended to never go back to the District 74 home. … It is Richmond’s burden to prove he sold and abandoned his family home and never intends or did go back to his family home.”
On the topic of Richmond’s dog business that the lawsuit alleges was used for a dummy address, readers of this blog will recall that Richmond has used his power in the legislature to fight efforts to regulate dog breeders — what he called “an Animal Rights extremist agenda” (Arkansas of course is well known for horrific puppy mills). Here’s more on Richmond’s company, which has existed since 1992 to provide a stamp of approval for breeders who don’t follow American Kennel Club protocol.
Richmond has also made headlines for his clamorous support of legislation to stop Sharia Law from coming to Arkansas. Though that problem doesn’t exist, Richmond said it was worth passing legislation to fight it to stop even the possibility of innocent children being kidnapped out of Arkansas. He also said, “I can assure that in places like Pakistan, places like Saudi Arabia, and many of these other countries, there is nothing there that is civilized,” then raged that they were very bad drivers. He’s a character.