Those who are on their high horse about Senator Roderick Wright after his conviction on charges relating to his voting residency should dismount. Wright’s transgression, if there was one, was being a professional politician trying to navigate a useless and unfathomable law.
The whole idea that you have to be a resident of a district to effectively represent its citizens is nonsense. Should you be saddled with selecting only doctors and lawyers who live in your neighborhood? There is no district residency requirement for Congress and that is probably the only thing associated with Congress that isn’t working badly.
Let’s take the case of a person who runs a business in a legislative district and is active in local community and charitable activities, but does not live within the boundaries of the district. There seems little justification for excluding that individual from candidacy, while allowing someone to run just because they sleep in the district most nights. Voters ought to be the ones who decide whether a candidate is a good fit to represent them in Sacramento or Washington.
Legislative district lines are arbitrary—even with an independent redistricting commission. With lines constantly changing, many politicians are forced to play the moving van game to run. At any rate, residency is a somewhat ephemeral concept—who is to say what you consider to be your primary permanent residence? If Senator Wright did try to game the system by doing what he seemed to think was minimally sufficient to meet the legal residency requirement, that would hardly seem to add up to felonious behavior. Closer scrutiny would probably find that a lot more public officials—past and present—could be looking at jail time under this wrongheaded law. Curiously, the media and some law enforcement agencies seem to point fingers primarily at officials who are members of ethnic minorities in challenging residency when there are plenty of white politicians who play the same game. Criminalization of political conduct may make for good headlines, but it doesn’t serve our democracy very well. We have enough impediments to political participation without having huge legal bills and potential felony convictions in the mix.
Much has been made of the fact that Senator Ron Calderon—under investigation for alleged funding improprieties—has been stripped of his committee assignments, while Senator Wright has been allowed to continue on committees. These are very different cases. Senator Calderon has been accused of serious misconduct, while Senator Wright has been convicted of a genuinely victimless crime and that conviction is under appeal.
Many years ago, a legislator from Inglewood moved to Beverly Hills. In the next election, the voters rejected him in favor of another candidate. That is the most appropriate remedy. It is interesting to note, that Senator Wright was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2012 after the residency violation charges had been leveled. The voters rendered their verdict. That’s the court that should count.