Outside addresses complicate campaigns
March 29, 2006
If Jim Shea Jr. runs into Mitt Romney sometime soon, perhaps they will chat about their political careers, and the campaign controversies they endured, when they are done reminiscing about the glories of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
In an unexpected way, the two Republicans have joined other politicians with ties to Park City who have been tarnished, at least slightly, by opponents who have challenged them on where they actually live and if their domicile is where they were seeking office.
Shea, the gold-medal skeleton racer in 2002, last week withdrew his candidacy amid charges from Democrats that he failed to meet Utah’s residency requirements to run for office. They are reminiscent, if not as important, of those that Romney faced in 2002 when he left Utah after helming the Olympics to run for governor in his home state of Massachusetts.
Shea wanted to succeed David Ure, another Republican, as the representative in the state House District 53 but Democrats probing his voting history found that he cast a ballot in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 2003, making him ineligible to be a candidate in the House election.
Utah election rules require that someone live in the state for at least three consecutive years before filing and live in the district in which they are seeking office for at least six consecutive months.
He ended his campaign on March 22, two days after the Democrats formally objected to his candidacy in a letter to Summit County Clerk Sue Follett.
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Shea’s residency question is the most recent in a string of intriguing, well-publicized campaign dilemmas that have dogged candidates in local races, those for the Statehouse and, in Romney’s case, the campaign to be the governor of Massachusetts.
"If you want to be involved, you should be doing your homework," Follett, who is the county’s election officer, said about the candidates and the residency rules.
Candidates must sign papers declaring themselves qualified to run, including that they meet residency requirements. Follett said she typically trusts the candidates when they sign the papers. If the candidacies are challenged on the basis of where the person lives, it is usually opponents, not Follett’s office, who complain.
Follett describes the state rules regulating the candidates as sometimes convoluted. Lawyers, she said, interpret the rules differently, comparing the attorneys to witnesses at a crime scene where people may provide conflicting scenarios.
"You can have three people at the scene of something and they see three different things," Follett said.
Who lives where?
Summit County Assessor Barbara Kresser’s office determines whether a residence is categorized as primary, meaning where a person lives on a full-time basis, or non-primary. Houses and condominiums in Park City that are not primary usually are vacation homes.
People who own homes classified as primary pay property taxes on 55 percent of the market value but those with vacation homes pay taxes on 100 percent of the value.
Utah considers where a person votes when deciding the address of a person’s full-time residence.
Ex-Park City Councilwoman Kay Calvert in 2001 fended off critics who claimed that she did not live in the city’s limits. She asserted that she resided in a house in Park Meadows and that someone else lived in another property, in Silver Creek, listed partially in her name. She was elected that year.
Also in 2001, Brad Scott, a mayoral candidate in Park City, was forced out of the contest after it was publicized that he owned houses in Park City and Salt Lake City, both of which were listed as primary residences, meaning that he was receiving property tax breaks on both.
The next year, the Romney campaign was briefly sidetracked when it was discovered that his Deer Valley mansion was listed on Summit County’s tax rolls as a primary residence, providing Romney with the same type of tax break that Scott got.
Summit County made an error in Romney’s case, believing that, because Romney was running the Olympics and spending time at the Deer Valley house, he must have wanted the house designated as a primary residence.
He owed tax collectors $54,569.24 in property taxes from 1999 until 2001.
Park City is especially notorious for having a population that often moves in and out of the city and the state. Ski-resort workers frequently move to the city in the fall and leave in the spring, some returning the next fall but others finding work elsewhere. Rich Parkites sometimes keep houses in other states and split time between them, perhaps skiing at their Park City house in the winter and sailing at another house in the summer.
"My guess is some of that happens in any resort community and people live in and out," said Dan Jones, a Salt Lake City pollster who monitors elections in Utah. "There are people in Park City who want to be there part of the time and somewhere else the rest of the time."
Shea is from Lake Placid but claims to have lived in Park City since 1998. He says he now lives at 1439 Woodside Ave., in Old Town.
The local Democrats, mirroring the Massachusetts Democrats in 2002 in the Romney case, wanted Shea barred from running based on residency requirements.
"It’s one of these old laws that’s been out there," Shea said, adding, "It’s mostly ignored unless another party makes a stink out of it."
Like the Romney camp in 2002, Shea claimed that the controversy was politically motivated.
"They thought I was going to win," he said. "They got scared, so they got technical."