Rahm's Residence and the Appeal of Absent Pols

Does it matter if politicians live in the places they represent?


To many people who dislike the Obama administration, Rahm Emanuel is the sordid embodiment of the Chicago Way. But to his enemies on the shores of Lake Michigan, he is to Chicago what Brett Favre is to Green Bay: a refugee, not a resident.

Having leased out his Northwest Side home after becoming White House chief of staff, Emanuel faces a potential lawsuit claiming he is ineligible to pursue his next ambition, becoming mayor of Chicago. The city code says you have to be a resident of the city for at least a year to run, and for the last couple of years, Emanuel has been bunking elsewhere.

Whether the argument will stand up in court is in doubt, since he has kept his Chicago voting registration and his Illinois driver's license, and since he clearly intended to return. But the dispute does make something clear: the silliness of residency requirements for public office.

Emanuel is not the only Chicago mayoral candidate who could be challenged on grounds of domicile. State Sen. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side, owns a home in South Holland, which he says he bought for his father. Ald. Sandi Jackson, wife of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., has a place in Washington, where their children go to school.

But legal issues aside, why should we care where a candidate gets her mail and buys her groceries? The American tradition is on the side of indifference, which is right where it should be.

The Constitution takes a relaxed attitude on the subject. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are not required to live in the districts they represent, and some don't.

Democrat Melissa Bean has been elected three times from Illinois' Eighth District, where she can't vote. Democrat Luis Gutierrez of Chicago got elected while living in the Fourth District but later moved out. Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii makes her home outside her congressional boundaries. And nobody cares.

U.S. senators are required to live in the states they represent—as if that rule means anything. Hillary Clinton, who was raised in Illinois, educated in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and spent many years in the Arkansas governor's mansion, didn't run in any of those states. She ran in New York, and she won by a landslide.

She was following the 1964 example of Robert F. Kennedy, an import whose critics sent him carpetbags for his birthday, which he presumably took to his new office in Washington. In 2004, Alan Keyes decamped from Maryland to Illinois to run against Barack Obama. In each case, critics portrayed the candidates as opportunistic interlopers.

But the Constitution says to opportunistic interlopers: Y'all come! It requires only that a senator be an "inhabitant" of the relevant state by Election Day, which effectively means anyone can run anywhere. The framers chose not to impose a long-term residency requirement.

They were similarly laissez-faire about higher offices. The president and vice president must come from different states, according to the Constitution. But that didn't keep George W. Bush of Austin from picking Dick Cheney of Dallas as his 2000 running mate. Cheney changed his voting registration back to his native Wyoming, and the courts said that was good enough.

Stiff residency rules might have made sense in the 18th century, when travel was excruciatingly slow, communications were primitive, and extensive first-hand knowledge of other places was hard to come by. But today, it's hard to argue that someone from Indiana couldn't understand the needs of Illinois well enough to hold office on this side of the Wabash River.

Come to think of it, some Illinoisans may be writing in Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for governor this year. Locals might think the Prairie State could only benefit from seeking out leaders who keep a wary distance from our bogs of corruption. Likewise, we'd be happy to export many homegrown pols.

As a rule, Americans pay no attention to where a candidate lays his head as long as he approximates what they want as a leader. When a transplanted Yankee ran for president in 1992, Texas Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, jeered, "George Bush claims to be from Texas. But someone who lives in Maine and stays in a Houston hotel room is called a tourist in Texas, not a Texan."

Texans got a good laugh out of that one. And Bush got their 32 electoral votes.


NEXT: Don't Take Your Nerf Gun to Town, Son

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  1. Good morning reason!

    But as Steve Chapman explains, whether the argument will stand up in court is in doubt, since Emanuel has kept his Chicago voting registration and his Illinois driver’s license, and since he clearly intended to return.

    So, Chapman’s evidence is Emanuel has been voting illegally and has an invalid driver’s license, but the people who live in Chicago should not have any say in who gets to run for mayor?

    This must be a record.

    1. Let’s see – not living in Chicago disqualified you from running for mayor but doesn’t exempt you from paying income and property tax to the city and state.

  2. A dead fish is on its way to Chapman.

  3. Let me be clear. If he was running against me, I’d have his ass disqualified faster than you can say Alice J. Palmer.

    1. Each and every of those disqualified signatures did not dot their i’s or cross their t’s.

      If you have learned nothing from my history you know that I am a stickler when it comes to following the law and constitution.

      Now leave me alone so I can send more drones to target Americans I don’t like.

  4. Residency requirements almost prevented Mitt Romney from running for governor in MA. Alas, the state’s ballot commission was packed with Republicans.

  5. he has kept his Chicago voting registration and his Illinois driver’s license, and since he clearly intended to return.

    Ah, but where was he born?

    1. Kenya?

  6. Residency requirements probably shouldn’t matter. But there’s nothing in the Constitution that says anybody has a right to hold elected office. In fact, there are a few requirements in the Constitution. States have a right to place their own requirements, and politicians have a duty to abide by those requirements. Are residency requirements really necessary? Probably not. I think the voters can sort it out.

    1. Interesting to speculate however, should such a case actually get to court, could/would the court actually require the candidate/office holder to produce an actual birth certificate, and not accept some lesser document?

      Would that then make the court a birther…or a truther???

  7. The President and the VP can be from the same state. The Constitution just prevents the electors from that state from voting for them.

  8. Rahm-a-lam-a-Rahmalama-ding-dong (the great doo-wop classic’s refrain)

    1. Rahming speed!

  9. Per Chicago lawyers, he clearly can’t run under current law but that with his connections the law won’t be an impediment.

  10. Emanuel has kept his Chicago voting registration

    Not sure if his registration is still valid, but 30 days after he moved, he wasn’t allowed to vote.

    Has he voted (anywhere) since 2008? If so, he voted illegally.

  11. Another question: Has he been paying Illinois and Chicago taxes? As a “resident” of Illinois, I bet he is required to, and failing to do so probably negates any argument that he was a resident regardless of his supposed intention to return.

    1. More importantly, what do the tax returns say about his place of domicile. He’ll probably say his tax accountants made a mistake in putting the domicile in Washington D.C., then file new returns for the past few years.

  12. Your point seems to be that it’s a silly, antiquated rule. My point is that it IS The RULE.
    Why should we change the rules to accommodate this guy now? He’s not a resident. He’s not eligible. Yeah, he has a voting card and a driver’s license. So? He’s not a resident. There can only be one resident of a household (with family). The guy who leases is THE RESIDENT. If you don’t like the rule, get it changed. Or, perhaps you prefer that people abide by the laws they like and disregard the others?

    Rule of law is non-residents ain’t eligible. Obama himself said during goig away party, “for 2 years I’ve started, and ended, every day with him”. Doesn’t sound like a resident to me.

  13. Here in Texas, to be a member of either house of the State Legislature, you have to be a permanent resident in the district at least 12 months before the election. I don’t recall any candidate here complaining about that rule. I myself certainly believe my State Senator and Representative should know something about their district and the people in it. The best way to laern that is to actually live in it.

  14. I, myself, might give that office a try.

    1. Hah, guess who’s runnin’ for senate in NY.

  15. ‘The president and vice president must come from different states, according to the Constitution.’


    Chapman may be thinking of the 12th Amendment, which provides that the Presidential Electors of each state “shall . . . vote by ballot for President and Vice President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves . . .”

    So if a Presidential candidate and his Vice-Presidential candidate happen to be inhabitants of the same state, the electors of that particular state must pick some third person for Vice President (Presumably they’d stick with the Presidential candidate).

    In the case of Texas and Dick Cheney, if Cheney had remained a Texan, the presidential electors from Texas (but not from any other state) would have had to vote for someone besides Dick Cheney for Vice-President – let’s say Trent Lott. I haven’t done the math, but maybe that would mean that nobody would have an electoral majority for Vice-President, meaning that the Senate would have to decide between the two top vote-getters (Cheney and Lieberman).

    But Bush would still have been elected President with a majority of the electoral vote. We would simply have had to see some shenanigans about the role of *Vice* President, which would have livened up the 2000 election, which as we know was totally boring and involved no challenges to anyone’s qualifications. ?

    1. But wasn’t there a Republican majority in the Senate anyway, in 2000? So wouldn’t Cheney have become Vice-President anyway? I’m too bored to check.

      1. Not bored – tired.

  16. And since the Vice-President is presiding officer (“President”) of the Senate, what would have been so wrong with the Senate playing at least *some* role in choosing its own presiding officer from among the top two vote-getters?

  17. Didn’t Michelle Obama just vote (and campaign in the same polling place) in Chicago? Was that an illegal vote to go along with illegal campaigning?

  18. Rahm should shot higher, become the next prime minister of Israel. He would have a lot more American tax dollars to play with.

  19. He is a dual national. Why doesn’t he run for mayor of Tel Aviv? Oh, they don’t like him there. Wait a minute. They don’t like him in Chicago either. That’s why he is raising money in Hollywierd.

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