Sen. Pat Roberts’ residency in Kansas is a valid question

05/23/2014 3:25 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Sen. Pat Roberts is not a Kansas resident, at least not in the sense that most people understand the word “resident.” He hasn’t been for a long time.

Milton Wolf, Roberts’ challenger, has pounded away on this point in what has become the hot issue — apparently the only issue, as far as Wolf is concerned — in this year’s GOP Senate primary.

“Senator Pat Roberts doesn’t live in Kansas,” a statement this week from Wolf’s campaign said.

Wolf makes that contention because the senator’s primary residence is in Virginia.

Roberts shouts back that he’s the real deal. He rents out a home he owns in Dodge City and pays $300-a-month rent to two longtime supporters in Dodge City to stay in their home when he’s around.

That, he says, makes him as a resident.

The Objections Board, comprised of statewide pols who have all endorsed Roberts, agreed.

So what’s the big deal? Well, it’s a big deal because of the potential political consequences. And it’s a big deal because of the quality of representation Kansans receive in Washington.

The residency issue in Indiana sunk longtime senator Richard Lugar in 2012. If it catches on in Kansas, it could sink Roberts too.

Challenging residency is nothing new. In fact, Roberts faced the same charge in 1996 when he ran for the Senate the first time. Lots of longtime Washington pols who buy homes in the D.C. area do too.

From a legal standpoint, residency challenges almost always fail. Because Roberts votes in Kansas and pays taxes, he is considered a resident. But is that really the right measuring stick?

This week, a USA Today story based on Senate financial records concluded that Roberts spent 97 days in the state between July 2011 and August 2013.

The Founding Fathers insisted that members of the Senate be “inhabitants” of the states they represent. In fact, they specifically picked that word over “resident” to avoid confusion.

“If you asked the founders, they would say, ‘This is bizarre. How would he know what he represents?’” early America historian Joseph Ellis said.

It seems reasonable to me that a member of Congress should be in the state more than 50 days a year to really know what’s going on, even with e-mail and the Internet.

Roberts once said that no one in public service “knows Kansas any better than Pat Roberts.” Kansans have elected him three times to the Senate with this issue out there. Still, Wolf raises a valid point. Can we now move to something else?

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.

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