RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia state lawmakers are required to live in the district they represent, as well as in any district they might be seeking to represent. If they move out of their district, the state constitution says they are out of office.
At least two sitting lawmakers seeking reelection in new districts say they are living either with or in the home of a relative rather than with their immediate family, in order to meet the residency requirements.
But for one of those two, Democratic Del. C.E. “Cliff” Hayes, a private investigative company’s findings that were provided to The Associated Press by the House Republican caucus raise questions about that claim.
Hayes said Friday that he’s following the rules. He reported to state officials earlier this year that he was living in a Chesapeake home that’s in both the 77th District, which he currently represents, and the new 91st district, which he’s running in this fall.
In an interview, Hayes acknowledged that he owns another property, where he said his wife lives and he sometimes spends time. But he said he is living with his brother-in-law in the home indicated on his paperwork, which he said had long been in his wife’s family and used to be a rental property.
The report, dated Sept. 30, says a private investigations company with an active state license was hired to look into an allegation that Hayes was not living at that address.
According to the report, three vehicles registered to Hayes have been “routinely parked” at a different home, the one where Hayes says his wife lives. That home is also in the 91st district but not the 77th, according to a publicly available state tool that shows which political districts addresses fall into.
A car registered to Hayes’ wife has also been seen at the home, the report said. None of those vehicles were ever seen at the address Hayes listed on his state paperwork.
A range of other vehicles were, however, seen at the house listed on his paperwork, according to the report, which said surveillance was conducted in the month of September “at various hours of the day and night.”
Hayes said he and his wife have five vehicles, and he sometimes drives different ones.
“I didn’t want to abandon my constituents, so I moved into our rental property. We ended the lease,” he said.
In a statement provided by a House Democratic caucus spokeswoman, he added: “As my constituents well know, I have been proud to represent this community that I have lived and worked in for my entire life. Any allegations to suggest otherwise are unfounded, partisan musings from a party attempting to distract from their own wrongdoings,”
Hayes is running against Republican Elijah Colon, who has not reported raising any funds for his campaign. The 91st District is strongly Democratic and includes parts of Chesapeake and Portsmouth.
The once-a-decade redistricting process that adjusts each state’s political maps to account for population shifts was handled this year by a pair of independent experts, with sign-off granted by the Supreme Court of Virginia.
The maps were drawn without regard to protecting incumbents, which left many Assembly members doubled or tripled up in districts. Some opted to retire, challenge each other in primaries, or move.
The state constitution is clear that a senator or delegate who moves from the district to which they were elected “shall thereby vacate his office.” Virginia’s part-time General Assembly is not actively meeting, but members are paid on a monthly basis and receive health care and other benefits.
Tim Anderson, an attorney and former House member who resigned this year to run in what was ultimately an unsuccessful state Senate primary, said his benefits ended as soon as he stepped down.
Delegates are paid their $17,640 annual salary throughout the year, Anderson said. Members are also eligible for a “phenomenal” health care plan, state retirement benefits, an office allowance and a legislative assistant, who also receives a salary and benefits, he added.
Another delegate, Nadarius Clark, resigned earlier this year to run in a new district.
Nick Freitas, the GOP nominee in a Culpeper County-area seat that’s strongly Republican, has also faced questions about his residency. After his chief of staff initially declined to answer a specific question from radio station WMRA about whether Freitas had moved out of his home, Freitas told the Culpeper Star-Exponent that he had and was living at a home owned by his mother. His paperwork filed with the state shows that home is in his current and would-be future districts.
“None of this is ideal, but the bottom line, I had the chance to continue to represent the district I have been representing for eight years,” Freitas, who couldn’t be reached Friday, told the newspaper.
Other concerns have flared this cycle.
Tim Griffin, the Republican nominee in a deeply conservative Lynchburg-area district, has faced questions about where he lives since his party’s nomination contest. He recently refused to divulge his address to The Daily Progress, and Cardinal News reported that a group of concerned Republicans had hired a private investigator to look into the situation.
His campaign didn’t respond to an emailed interview request Friday.
Residency questions bubbled up even before the new maps took effect.
Greg Habeeb, a former delegate and campaign chair for the House Republicans, said it has been a perennial issue, but not one there has ever been much appetite to address with stricter standards given the issues have been in both parties and chambers.
“Most years there is some question about somebody,” he said.