Knocking An Entrenched Lawmaker Over Residency Is Not Unique

Feb. 26, 2012 | An insurgent candidate tries to unseat a three decades-old political institution within in their own party by charging the incumbent lives in Washington, D.C., instead of their own state.

Sound familiar?

Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell’s run against Rep. Pete Stark is predicated on the assertion the 80-year-old does not live in his East Bay congressional district and out of touch from the realities of his constituents. “If he’s not here and he’s not there,” said Swalwell last week, “Where is he?”

Swalwell’s argument, it now appears is not wholly unique to attempts at unseating entrenched Beltway insiders.

Sen. Richard Lugar

Indiana’s Republican Sen. Richard Lugar is facing the same onslaught from within his party by State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Lugar, one of the most notable members of the U.S. Senate, recently acknowledged selling his home in Indianapolis just after winning election in 1976.

To make matters worse, he recently told reporters he had no idea what address on his Indiana driver’s license. Last week, the Indiana attorney general and a state election commission said Lugar’s residency was valid because his work in Washington constituted “official duties.”

“Sadly, Sen. Lugar went to Washington, D.C., and left Indiana behind,” said Mourdock. Lugar says upon election in 1976, he bought a home in Washington and couldn’t afford owning two homes to keep his family together, so he packed up and moved from the Hoosier State.

Similar to Lugar, Stark was first elected to Congress in 1973 and has rarely faced legitimate challengers over the next 38 years. He lists the home address of his in-laws in San Lorenzo, but said last week that he has rented a home in Fremont for the past 20 years.

“It would just about impossible until we have some type of rocket, which we don’t have, to represent you in Congress and not live in the Washington, D.C. area,” said Stark, who also said family issues necessitate stability in one place. Stark has a 16-year-old son and 10-year-old twins.

There are some important differences between these two similar situations. Knowledge of Stark’s residency on the Chesapeake is common knowledge in the East Bay. For Swalwell, his charge over Stark’s residency comes in tandem with pointed criticism of Stark’s poor voting record over the past few years.

The second part is risky since Stark’s excuse for missing so many votes, particularly in 2010, was due to a severe case of Pneumonia that sapped him of his energy and, along with medication, physically transformed facial features from narrow and chiseled to doughy and puffy.

As one observer of Stark and Swalwell’s first meeting Feb. 20 in Dublin told me, “Swalwell has to be careful not to look like he’s beating up on an old man.”