Seven current Utah congressional candidates are running for districts where they do not live, prompting Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, to try to stop that growing practice.
"They should have to run in their own districts, just like every other type of candidate. I'm tired of Congress playing by different rules.... They are just shopping for a district," he said. So he introduced HB439 in the Legislature to require them to live in their districts.
So far the bill has only a title with no text, in part because Ray cannot yet figure how to get around a problem: the U.S. Constitution.
It requires only that U.S. House members merely "inhabit" the states they represent, not their specific district. That allowed Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, for example, to be elected twice to Utah's 3rd Congressional District, even though he lives a few miles outside of it.
Maryland once tried to require its representatives to live in their districts which led to contesting the election of Rep. William McCreery, who served from 1803 to 1809. He was elected by a Baltimore district where he had lived for years but moved to a rural area just before the election.
The House seated him anyway, ruling that a state law cannot trump the Constitution.
"We're looking at whether the Constitution just sets a minimum, and whether a state can go beyond that," Ray said. "I don't think it's too much to ask someone to live with the people they represent."
While seven Utah congressional candidates are running outside their home districts now, that practice is rare historically. The Tribune and congressional researchers found only three instances including Chaffetz and McCreery of House members serving in districts where they clearly did not live. It could be imprecise because no comprehensive academic research on the topic could be located.
Among those running outside their own district is Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who is a candidate in the new 4th Congressional District instead of his home 2nd Congressional District. He says Republicans gerrymandered districts so it would be difficult for a Democrat to win in any of them, but said the 4th is a bit less tough than the 2nd.