ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A residency dispute involving a Minnesota legislator has landed in court and could put a Republican-held seat in contention at a time when the party is fighting to wrest chamber control from Democrats.
A voter in Rep. Bob Barrett’s district — aided by a law firm on retainer for the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to remove the two-term incumbent from November’s ballot amid doubts about whether he lives in the district. The lawmaker told The Associated Press during a three-minute interview Monday that he moved into a Lindstrom home after the 2012 legislative redistricting and has been trying to sell a property outside the district that he continues to label his residential homestead for property tax purposes.
“I’m primarily in Lindstrom,” Barrett said, adding, “I have just become aware of this whole thing so I haven’t read what they have or what they think they have.”
The election contest was filed Friday and will likely take weeks to sort out.
If Barrett is struck from the ballot, it would give Democrats a strong chance of a pickup in Republican territory. The GOP needs to gain seven or more seats this November to reclaim House control.
First elected in 2010, Barrett formerly listed a Shafer home address in public documents associated with his legislative service. The Lindstrom address first appeared in the official legislative manual in 2013 and is cited in his most-recent campaign filings.
Valerie Mondor, who petitioned the court, said she began looking into Barrett’s residency after she failed to reach him to discuss concerns over legislation at the Capitol. Mondor said she went so far as to send a certified letter to the Lindstrom property after which a receipt was returned to her bearing Barrett’s signature and a post-office box address. She said she collected affidavits from some neighbors that she spoke with about Barrett.
“I started to suspect he was lying and never moved back in his district after redistricting,” Mondor said. “That’s the issue.”
Barrett said the Lindstrom home is surrounded by trees and “is down a pretty long street.” He said he hasn’t made many connections with those living close by.
Next-door neighbor Keith Thompson said Barrett comes and goes from the Lindstrom house every day. Thompson has lived in the area since 1990.
“He shovels. He mows the lawn,” Thompson said by phone. “We all know Bob.”
Attempts to reach the Lindstrom home’s owners, Gregory and Maria Coulter, at a listed residence and a presumed workplace were unsuccessful.
Barrett’s daughter was served legal papers in the case Thursday at the Shafer property.
Mondor acknowledged she has volunteered for Barrett’s Democratic opponent, Laurie Warner. But she said she also marched in a parade for Barrett in his 2012 race.
A Minneapolis firm that does the legal work for Democrats is assisting Mondor. Attorney David Zoll said Barrett must prove he relocated at least six months before the election or made steps toward that to qualify for the ballot under the state Constitution.
“It has to be the place that you call home,” Zoll argued.
Legislative redistricting, which last occurred before the 2012 election, often causes incumbents to move if their principal residence winds up outside their district’s new boundaries.
In 2002, Republicans challenged the residence of four Democratic candidates, including two incumbents. The Supreme Court let all four remain on the ballot and said it wasn’t clear in the law what constituted residency for the purposes of enforcing the constitutional standard.
Four years later, the court disqualified a Republican House candidate in a St. Cloud special election after determining she actually lived in a St. Paul house owned by her parents. A substitute candidate fell short with a write-in campaign.
The law was changed in 2013 to let parties substitute candidates on the ballot in certain circumstances, such as death. It’s not clear if it would apply in this case.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)