beaver boundary

place, politics and power in oregon

Lengthen Candidate Residency Eligibility October 2, 2007

Filed under: Geography,Multnomah County,Oregon House 2008,Primary 2008 — taoiseach @ 5:41 pm

With at least three Portland-area state representative candidates running in districts in which they have hardly lived for a small number of months, let alone years, it’s high time to consider measures that will curb elective border-crossing. Under current election law, a candidate wishing to represent a district must live in that district at least one year preceding the date of the general election. That means that a future 2008 candidate for the state legislature would need to move into the district they wish to represent by November 4 of this year–leaving fully one month for all sorts of geographical jockeying of our representative democracy. The one-year residency requirement under Oregon election law, especially combined with Oregon’s short legislative sessions, allows well-known insiders to make an end-run around the spirit of single-member districts, and for this reason it should be lengthened to at least two years.carpetbag

Because of Oregon’s biennial and short-running sessions, legislators, as incumbents, are more likely to announce re-election intentions (or the lack thereof) at the end of the session, usually three or four months before the one-year residency deadline takes effect. Just think of how many legislators have announced that they won’t be coming back next time: 8 Republicans, plus at least 4 Democrats seeking higher office, have done this in the state House alone. Insiders are preternaturally attuned to this sort of information and therefore have an advantage in that window between the incumbent’s announcement and the residency deadline.

When a well-known insider, or erstwhile lucky politico wannabe, gets the information that a seat is opening up, they’re not running to serve the best interests of that particular district; they’re running to serve themselves by traveling the path of least resistance. Sure, it’s hard to challenge an incumbent, and sure, some districts have higher ambition rates than others. But in Oregon, our single-member district system comes out of a deep-seated respect for and adherence to the democratic principle of ‘one person one vote’. That’s the reason we had to toss out multiple-member districts in the mid-20th century–because the many diverse parts and communities of interest within Portland were represented at large by a varying number of representatives.

By extending the residency requirement from one year to two, we will dramatically reduce the high level of musical chairs currently underway by a good number of Portland’s legislative candidates. The two year requirement will take district residency outside of the calendar imposed by Oregon’s election cycle and will generate candidates that better reflect the values and attitudes of the district in question. Yet, its relative brevity in terms of elective requirements reflects the dynamic nature of living in Oregon.

This change probably cannot be implemented until the 2012 election cycle, but perhaps its consideration will heighten the awareness of the territory-shifting insider candidate and provoke responses accordingly.


7 Responses to “Lengthen Candidate Residency Eligibility”

  1. bdunn Says:

    Sometimes its not as big of a deal as it is made out to be, especially in small urban districts. I believe one of the candidates that you are referring to move all of 20 blocks from where they were currently living.

  2. taoiseach Says:

    20 blocks can be a big deal depending in which direction you’re moving and what borders, imagined or real, you’re crossing. For example, parts of NW Portland and N Portland can be measured as 20 blocks, but you’d be crossing the Willamette River–a pretty big cultural and geographical divide–to get from one place to the other.

    None of Portland’s legislative districts cross the Willamette River. I presume that’s for a huge number of reasons.

    Political borders are an all-or-nothing enterprise. Living close to the district borders isn’t good enough; you’ve got to live within them to count.

  3. taoiseach,

    You and I certainly don’t agree on our preference for the Dem nominee to take on Gordon Smith, but I agree with you on this one.

    Nice “carpetbag” image.


    Given your fervent arguments about non-Democrats “interfering” in a Democratic Primary over at LoadedO, i’m surprised to see you take this position.

    A District is a District, right? Wouldn’t want to be impinging on anyone’s right to vote for someone whose lived in their neighborhood? A foreigner demanding the right to run in a District they’ve only briefly lived in, and only moved into to run in, kind of conflicts with your “Dems only” criteria for voicing an opinion in a primary doesn’t it?

  4. torridjoe Says:

    What standard does a year meet? Is is arbitrary? How about 2? How about 10?

    I haven’t been convinced what tangible effect the requirement would give as a benefit.

  5. Tao — Thanks for this post. You make a very good and well-reasoned argument about the way that insiders get an advantage because of the gap between end-of-session and the election-day-minus-one-year deadline.

    Frankly, that’s the first good argument I’ve heard on this question.

    Certainly, legislative districts in urban areas don’t usually demarcate groupings of communities that make particular sense. Rather, they’re agglomerations of a specific number of voters with borders drawn based on a number of factors, including: “natural” borders (rivers, roads) and partisan analysis of expected advantage.

    FWIW, the Willamette River as a hard-and-fast border in the Portland area is a feature of the 2000 redistricting – but wasn’t a feature of the 1990 redistricting.

    I remember that Vera Katz defended the odd cross-river districting of her district because it contained the entire run of her bus ride from Southeast to downtown — the idea that the bus route defined a particular community. (Silly, but true.)

    In any case, this is a fascinating discussion. I was a co-chair of the citizens commission on redistricting the Metro Council in 2001 – and the discussions about what makes a community, and what’s an appropriate border were fascinating…. especially given the requirement to make all districts equal by population.

  6. Liz Says:

    When the new districts were drawn after the last census, my state senator moved on what I think was the last possible day so as to be sure not to be competing with another incumbent. That wasn’t probably any longer of a move than contemplated by some in this topic. And it didn’t prevent lots of old hands who thought they knew everything about politics from saying she was an unbeatable icon, and even some Democrats wondered why anyone would run against such an intrenched incumbent.

    The challenger had spent many years in a small town at the other end of the district, and ended up almost winning his county even though all the “smart” political people said he didn’t have a chance in the world.

    This seems like a “tempest in a teapot” to me, unless the underlying issue is that some who are concerned about this had someone in mind who already lived in the district.

    We could be talking about 49 and 50, about reviewing the tax code, about caucus politics descending to such a point some people prefer the idea of a nonpartisan legislature, and all you can talk about is residency issues where some people move from one part of a city/ county to another? Get real!

  7. taoiseach Says:


    I think if you look around on this blog you’ll see plenty of discussion on Measure 50 in particular. And I’m not done yet.

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