Editorial: Time to rethink residency rules

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Voters have raised questions regarding the residency of three candidates in the Taos and Questa elections. At least two of the candidates will have to go to court to defend where they live.

The question is, how much should it matter in this rural county where you sleep at night and where you call home?

State law is more than vague on the question of what qualifies as a candidate’s permanent residence for the purposes of public office. The law doesn’t stipulate that a candidate must spend a certain number of days or nights at a house for it to qualify as a primary residence.

The Secretary of State’s Office says that basically the address a candidate uses on a voter registration form should match the residence listed on the declaration to run for public office. But neither the state nor town clerks have the resources to thoroughly vet whether or not candidates live where they say they do.

It is important for a candidate to truly represent the people who elect him or her. And, it’s really important for them not to lie. But how much does residency matter in terms of representing constituents?

Is where you call home more important than where you work every day, which organizations you volunteer with, how devoted you are to showing up, doing the homework and making decisions that help constituents at large?

Both Taos mayoral candidates face criticism that they don’t live in the houses listed on their forms for public office. But Darien Fernandez works in town, and if he doesn’t spend most nights at the house listed on his voter registration form, he says he spends them at his girlfriend’s house, which is in the town limits. Dan Barrone has a home in town, volunteers with organizations in town, spends hours at meetings at city hall, but admits he also has a house outside of town limits near the sawmill he owns. Does it matter which one is his primary residence?

Mark Gallegos, running for mayor of Questa, says Questa is where his job, his committee commitments and his volunteer hours go. But, yes, he spends most of his nights at a house in Taos. 

It doesn’t only happen with local elections. On the heels of President Donald Trump criticizing a Georgia Democratic candidate in June, 2017 for living outside the district he wanted to represent, the Washington Post vetted all Congressional house members and found 21 lived outside of the districts they were elected to represent. 

And there is this: Many people in the villages surrounding Taos, who work in town and are affected by town decisions, can’t vote for town mayor or council. So one could argue that a candidate who lives in one of these villages – El Prado, Ranchos, Talpa, Las Colonias, etc. – is still representing the town.

It may be time to rethink the residency requirements for candidates, perhaps revamp them to include candidates who live within a certain distance of the town limits or within specified zip codes.

Certainly the town and village face much bigger and deeper issues that voters should be grilling the candidates on, rather than wasting time worrying about where they live.

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