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State and district

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On his Facebook stream, first district congressional candidate Russ Fulcher, of Meridian, has posted an item noting he has always lived in that district. And: “Fun Fact: Russ Fulcher’s family has lived in what is now Idaho’s first Congressional District since 1886, four years before Idaho became a state.”

He is making more than a biographical point. His chief opponent, former attorney general and lieutenant governor David Leroy, currently lives outside the district. Leroy is not far from it; he lives in Boise, just not the portion now carved into the first. He has lived in the first before, and has said he plans to maintain a residence inside the first.

But from Fulcher’s implicit point – I’m a resident of the district, and he isn’t – two ideas emerge.

The first is, you don’t have to live in the CD to represent it. You do have to live in the same state. The U.S. Constitution, which sets only a few requirements for serving in the House (at least 25 years old and a United States citizen for seven years) does require a person to “be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” State yes, but being in the same district, no.

The issue came up this spring in the high-profile House race for an open seat in Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff famously lived several miles outside his suburban Atlanta district. No one charged he couldn’t legally serve, but the point about his living elsewhere was hammered around persistently through the campaign.

Several months ago, the Washington Post researched congressional residences and found 20 incumbent members of Congress who live outside their districts. In some cases a member originally elected from a district where he was a resident, saw the district boundaries shifting away, and opted not to run in the district which now included his house. In some cases it becomes no big issue, and in others candidates have lost races at least partly because of it. Specifics matter.

The newest member of the House from Washington state, Pramila Jayapal, lived about two miles outside the district she was running to represent when she was elected; it wasn’t a big issue there. Then there was Oregon’s Delia Lopez, a resident of the small rural community of Oakland, about 150 miles south of Portland. She was running to represent Oregon’s third district, which mostly is central urban Portland, about two hours by freeway from her house. She lost overwhelmingly, though the fact that she was a Republican in a district even more Democratic than Idaho is Republican, also had a lot to do with it.

Lopez’ case was like, in Idaho terms, someone living in Arco running for the first district, which runs along the west side of the state from Canada to Nevada. There’s not much connection.

Leroy’s case is a little different. Boise, in whole or in part, has been within the Idaho first congressional district for half a century. Boiseans are legally divided between the districts but as a more practical matter they have a foot in each of them. Leroy’s first district credentials are in reasonable order: He grew up in Lewiston, attended the University of Idaho at Moscow and has lived in the 1st at various points through his decades of residence in Boise. And he ran for the 1st district seat once before, in 1994 (when he lost the Republican nomination to Helen Chenoweth).

Of course, in a thinly divided and closely contested contest, as this one is shaping up to be, every issue matters. Including the matter of ten or fifteen minutes travel time.

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