Update: Jason Chaffetz and Chris Cannon will go to a primary on June 24th; updated post HERE.
It is now out in the open, and the Salt Lake Tribune has done a story on it. Jason Chaffetz (pictured at left), a former chief of staff for Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. who is one of three Republicans challenging incumbent Third District Congressman Chris Cannon for his seat, does NOT live within the boundaries of the Third District.
But it's legal for him to run for the Third District seat. The U.S. Constitution merely states that a U.S. House candidate must live within the state, not within the specific U.S. House district. Attempts by states to impose a district residency requirement have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. So it's legal. But is it ethical?
Jason Chaffetz thinks so. Chaffetz says his heart, if not his home, is in the 3rd District where he has spent most of his life, and he doesn't expect it to be a liability as he campaigns for the House seat. "I'm not a political opportunist. I've lived there for 20-plus years. It's hardly carpetbagging," said Chaffetz, who lives in Alpine, about two miles from the 3rd District's northern boundary.
But fellow challenger David Leavitt hears differently from prospective constituents. While he's not raising the issue, he has been asked about it by delegates and says that when people find out, it's a real turn-off. "Really, the question is, does this signal a guy who wants to be in Congress for proper reasons or is this a guy who is an opportunist? If you're wanting to return Congress to traditional conservative values, he has an opportunity in the 2nd District to run against someone [Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson] who's a little more liberal than Chris Cannon," Leavitt said.
In contrast, the Cannon camp says "mum's the word". Cannon's spokesman, Joe Hunter, said Chaffetz's residency has come up in delegate meetings, but he declined to discuss the issue.
The fourth Republican candidate in the race, Joe Ferguson, was not mentioned in the Tribune article. It appears the Utah media is ignoring his candidacy. Ferguson does not address the Chaffetz residency issue on his official campaign website. Nothing has been heard from the last Republican challenger, Stone Fonua, a truck driver who said he would only need to be in Congress for one term to nurture support for a plan he calls "the Peacemaker," which he says would "heal the sick, clothe the naked and bring peace to individuals in their finances" by getting rid of bankruptcy laws and allowing everyone to have their own financial reserves.
The other two candidates in the race are Constitution Party candidate Jim Noorlander and Democrat Bennion Spencer, who has jumped in at the request of the Utah Democratic Party. Neither will have primary competition.
One uncommitted delegate already has a problem with Chaffetz' residency. Dave Lifferth, an uncommitted Republican delegate from Eagle Mountain, whose son plays soccer with Chaffetz's son, said he was surprised to find out that Chaffetz doesn't live in the district. "I think that would discourage me from supporting him," he said. "It just doesn't seem quite right. I think he's a nice guy. I like him. . . . But if he really wants to run for Congress, I think he should run in his own district. I would love for him to knock off Jim Matheson."
And it's not as if Chaffetz has been trying to conceal the issue. Kip Mecham, a Republican delegate from Orem, said Chaffetz himself raised the issue at a recent cottage meeting. He said the question is whether someone who lives in the district represents it better, which is essential to a representative democracy. "I would have to say at the end of the day I think it's a strike against somebody to not reside in the district that you represent," said Mecham, who has not decided who he will support.
Alpine, where Chaffetz has lived for 20 years, was once part of the 3rd District until they were gerrymandered into the 2nd District. A prospective four-district map adopted by the Legislature would move Alpine, American Fork, Highland and Lehi back into the 3rd District. But that map was approved as part of an effort to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House and offset that with a fourth seat for Utah. That effort failed, and Utah will most likely have to wait until 2012 for its fourth House seat and the associated re-districting.
For now, Chaffetz says he'll keep campaigning and hopes to address the issues, not make his address the issue. "It's politically convenient for Cannon and Leavitt to distract from the issues," he said. "They seem to want to challenge me on where I lay my head at night."
Commentary: Wrong answer, Jason. The bottom line - your candidacy is effectively over. Combined with the fact that a recent poll shows Chaffetz far behind both Cannon and Leavitt along with his self-imposed $100,000 spending limit, this combination is just too much for him to overcome, no matter that Chaffetz himself is a decent guy. The race is simply too competitive, and he ought to just wind it up and get out of the race now.
Of course, Chaffetz' continued presence in the race might take enough votes away from Cannon to prevent him from getting that magic 60 percent of the delegates to clinch the nomination outright at the May 10th state convention. This will force Cannon into a primary contest against David Leavitt. If that's Chaffetz' secondary goal, then it may be worthwhile for him to stay in.