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A Republican Facebook friend has written to remind me that in late 2006/early 2007, when Tom Umberg was running to fill Lou Correa’s seat on the Board of Supervisors (which was won by Janet Nguyen), he underwent a similar challenge to his residency. So I looked it up and found some interesting material. For example, let’s review this blog entry from Republican utility infielder Matt Cunningham, writing as “Jubal,” which under the Fair Use exemption for criticism I’m going to reprint in great part (my commentary is interspersed in brackets):
Tom Umberg Lives In Santa Ana — And I Have A Bridge To Sell You
I’ve raised the issue of 1st Supervisor District candidate Tom Umberg’s residency in previous posts. It’s common knowledge that Umberg lives in Villa park, a small, wealthy city of 6,000 souls snuggled in the 3rd Supervisor District.
[My reaction: if he didn’t legally reside in the 1st Supervisorial District, he shouldn’t have been on the ballot. Simple!]
The former Assemblyman bases his 1st SD residency claim on his Santa Ana voter registration. In October 2003, he and his wife Robin registered to vote at a unit in the MacArthur Village condominium complex in Santa Ana near Bristol and MacArthur. That’s the part of Santa Ana where residents, if you ask them where they live, are wont to specificy “Oh, I live in Santa Ana-near-South-Coast-Plaza” as if that were an official postal address. Or they tell you they in in the “South Coast Metro” area.
[That’s interesting: his wife also registered there. Well, that’s one difference. And they moved (or “moved’) more than three years before the Supervisorial election — not just within the previous year, while still representing the previous district in the legislature. That’s another.]
In any case, not only did Mr. and Mrs. Umberg register to vote there, but they were followed by their two adult children in February 2004. It must have been a snug fit, since the biggest units at MacArthur Village have only two bedrooms.
[So that’s another difference: their two children registered there too, also well before even the general election in the cycle previous to the 2006 election that preceded the special election. I agree, though, that the idea of such a family living in a two-bedroom apartment under those circumstances is absurd — almost as much so as a family of six living in a 570 square foot apartment. Score one for Matt!]
Maybe overcrowding is the reason why on December 22, 2006 — less than three weeks ago — Tom Umberg re-registered at another unit in MacArthur Village.
So let me get this straight — we’re supposed to believe that Tom Umberg “resides” at one unit in Santa Ana, his wife and children “reside” at another unit in the same complex — and they only “spend time” at their spacious home in Villa Park (where 3rd District Supervisor Bill Campbell also lives)?
[Another good point, Matt!]
A picture can be worth a thousand words, so I’ll let readers compare MacArthur Village (home to expansive units with 864-square feet of living area) with Chateau Umberg in Villa Park:
I’d say that house is about 3,500 square feet, give or take a 100 square feet. It has a pool (like every other house on the cul-de-sac) and a tennis court — and unlike MacArthur Village one doesn’t have to share them with the other residents.
[You’ll have to go to his site to see the photos (as well as embedded links.) But this much is clear: the place to which Umberg moved was 50% larger than the place to which Walters moved and the place from which Umberg moved was about 25% the size of the place from which Walters moved.
I’m no election law lawyer, but my understanding is residency is governed by the location of one’s domicile — where one goes home to, where one’s family lives,where one plans to stay. No serious person can believe the Villa Park house is not Tom Umberg’s domicile.
[I have done some election law — and my understanding is that Matt is correct! I especially like the “no serious person” conclusion.]
Unless a plaintiff steps forth and files a suit challenging Umberg’s residency, it will be a moot point legally. It will have political impact only to the extent Umberg’s opponents or IE campaigns inform voters that the former Assemblyman lives in an entirely different Supervisor District.
[Very perspicacious of Matt! Yes, unless a plaintiff steps forward and challenges some bit of wrongdoing, the wrongdoer is generally going to get away with it. Of course, that’s what Steve Young just did.]
I want to be fair about this, though: as Martin Wisckol’s January 2007 story in the Register demonstrates, some people have been consistent about their position (which I’ll paraphrase) that the law means nothing in the wilds of Central OC. For example, from that article, here’s “back in the news with Mimi” Dave Gilliard:
“I think it is a nonissue,” said veteran consultant Dave Gilliard, who’s representing Umberg opponent Janet Nguyen. “Central Orange County has a history of carpetbagging. There are many better reasons to oppose Umberg.”
As Gilliard points out, Umberg is not the first to establish residency in the area to run for office. Former Rep. Bob Dornan; his successor, Loretta Sanchez; and state Sen. Joe Dunn are among those on the list.
(Shorter Dave Gilliard: “Breaking this law is our long-honored tradition here in Orange County; what sort of knaves would dare to mess with our way of life?”)
Well, yes: people do move into a district to establish residency. That’s the usual definition of “carpetbagging,” going back to the first “carpetbaggers” of the Post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. But they moved into those new areas. Joe Dunn lives in Floral Park within Santa Ana. Loretta lives within her district. There’s nothing legally (as opposed to perhaps politically) wrong with that. One might, for example, use as a test where someone generally sleeps. Wisckol notes (emphasis is mine):
Umberg says he sleeps most nights in the Santa Ana condo but also spends time in the Villa Park home he bought 11 years ago with his wife, Robin.
So let’s see Mimi Walters stand before a judge and testify to the same thing about herself. Can she do that honestly? I have my doubts. Grave, grave doubts.
I’ll throw a third article from mid-January 2007 into the mix, from our evil (yet somehow in his own way lovable) competitor Chris Prevatt at the Liberal OC.
Throughout this debate [over the question of whether Umberg lives in the 1st Supervisorial District] I’ve been wondering, if this is really a valid issue, why hasn’t anyone sued. Heck, they did with Carol Rudat and that was just a City Council seat. This is Umberg’s third election since March of 2004 and the issue seems to be getting a little old.
Well, I think Martin Wisckol over at the OC Register has inadvertantly revealed the answer to this burning question. The answer lies in the California Election code, specifically the area that focuses on voter eligibility. The code recognizes that some people may have more than one residence and tries to set out some ground rules as to how to determine where a person can register to vote. For the most part, the law revolves around a simple, yet complicated perspective. Where does the individual intend their primary residence to be? In the mix of defining intent the law sets out a couple of parameters to help things along.
There is Election Code 2031, which says in a nutshell that if you claim a homeowners tax exemption on one of multiple residences that is to be considered your primary residence (domicile), unless you have registered your auto or driver’s license at one of your other residences then this presumption is tossed out. Then there are sections 2028 and 2029, which establish that just because your spouse andfamily live in one residence, does not mean that you live in the same residences.
In the case of Tom Umberg this gets a little more murky, or clear, depending on your point of view. The home in Villa Park was once jointly owned jointly by Tom and Robin Umberg. In his follow up to his article today on the Total Buzz Blog, Wisckol revealed that the Villa Park home is solely owned by Robin Umberg. Further, he found that the Umbergs did not take the homeowners property tax credit on the home in Villa Park. I would bet that Tom Umberg has registered his driver’s license at the Santa Ana address and that the utilities are also in his name. He’s an attorney for Gods sake, he knows enough to meet the legal requirements of residency.
(Emphasis mine. Go to the original for more embedded links.)
Prevatt concludes that the reason why no one had brought a case against Umberg over his residency was clear: there was no legitimate case to be brought!
So — many thanks to the Republican source who pointed me to the Umberg residency controversy. I’m pretty satisfied to have Mimi Walters judged by the standards presented here. The most important difference is that Steve Young did file a case against his opponent (and did it well) — and if there is justice in Sacramento he will be unopposed on the ballot in November, because Mimi Walters can no more legally run for State Senate in the 37th District than can Hillary Clinton. Check the rules. They’re — well, no matter what Dave Gilliard may say, they’re THE LAW!