Lawmakers' homes: Location, location, politicization

California freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, in his office on Capitol Hill
California freshman Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, in his office on Capitol Hill Mary F. Calvert/MCT

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Jeff Denham has a ranch in Atwater, a residence in Turlock and his wife and children with him in Northern Virginia.

His Democratic opponent has a family in Houston, while he seeks election in the San Joaquin Valley.

This kind of geography can seem complicated. Politically, for sure, home addresses can seemingly become vulnerabilities. But for congressional incumbents as well as challengers, figuring out where to live poses poignant choices likely to draw scrutiny whichever way one goes.

"It's an issue that will be raised during a campaign," acknowledged Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, "but I don't know of any campaign where it's been a deciding factor."

Garamendi should know.

Although a long-time Walnut Grove resident, Garamendi's residency incited satirical comment with his initial 2009 House campaign. It turned out his family home was across the Sacramento River from the 10th Congressional District in which he was running.

Legally, that's okay. Every member of the House of Representatives must live in the state "in which he shall be chosen," according to the Constitution, but the legislators need not live in the specific district.

Rep. Tom McClintock, for instance, once represented a Southern California district in the state Legislature. His home is in Elk Grove, in Sacramento County. Elk Grove is neither in his current congressional district nor in the redrawn district he's running for this year.

Politically, such geographic separations can become awkward. McClintock's 2008 GOP primary opponent, Doug Ose, ran ads attacking McClintock as a carpetbagger, while Garamendi was lampooned when he appeared last June on "The Colbert Report."

"I don't mind representing them but, ugh, I wouldn't want to live there," comedian Stephen Colbert said mockingly.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, likewise faced a barrage when, after about six years in the House, he moved his wife and three children back to Maryland. Family unification was essential, Cardoza said, but his political opponents thought otherwise, and they lambasted Cardoza as going East Coast.

"They totally drove me crazy with it," Cardoza said. "It was the most annoying thing."

Cardoza has nonetheless won reelection easily; he is retiring this year. Explicitly attacked as a carpetbagger in some mailings, Garamendi nonetheless won the 2009 special election by 53 to 43 percent margin.

At the time, Denham was serving in the state Senate. Originally living in the Salinas area, Denham had bought in late 2003 his 19-acre Atwater ranch. The ranch is in Cardoza's 18th Congressional District, adjacent to the 19th Congressional District that Denham was elected to represent in 2010.

The next year, Denham's wife and children moved back to join him in Northern Virginia. Denham explained the move as necessary for him as a father and family man, a choice other lawmakers sympathize with.

"You've got to take care of your family," Cardoza said, adding that he thinks Denham made the right choice. "It's better for the member, and it's better for the district."

Denham moved his family to Northern Virginia before the 14-member California Citizens Redistricting Commission finished drawing new congressional district maps. The commission's rules specifically prohibited taking into account an incumbent's "place of residence."

The new maps separated Stanislaus and Merced counties. Last year, while retaining the Atwater ranch, Denham moved his district residence about 18 miles away to a rental in Turlock, which is in the newly redrawn 10th Congressional District.

Denham said his new district residence is close to the church his family has attended, as well as the stores his family has frequented. He brushed off suggestions that the move may have included political motivations.

"I made the decision that's best for my family," Denham said, adding that "this is a community I've been involved with."

Denham's campaign consultant, Dave Gilliard, has noted that Democratic challenger Jose Hernandez was living full-time in Houston until his announcement last fall that he would be running for the House seat in his native San Joaquin County. Hernandez, in an interview, said his wife and five children will be remaining in Texas until the end of the school year.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is likewise moving into a different part of San Joaquin County, migrating over the Altamont Pass from his long-time Alameda County home in order to run in a redrawn congressional district. McNerney's spokeswoman Lauren Smith said Friday the congressman hasn't yet found his new home.

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Rep. Jeff Denham's web site


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