Sunday, February 19, 2012

AP Reporter Misinforms Readers About Residency Issues

It is simply unbelievable the lack of integrity held by so many mainstream news media reporters in their coverage of political and legal issues in this country today. The deliberate misrepresentation of issues and laws to suit one's ends has become acceptable journalism. The AP's Charles Wilson's story on the issue Charlie White has made about other prominent politicians' abuse of the voter registration laws is the latest example of a journalist's personal agenda getting in the way of fair and balanced reporting of the issue at hand. White has pointed out issues regarding the residencies of Sen. Richard Lugar, Gov. Evan Bayh and former U.S. Senator Evan Bayh to illustrate the fact that each of these men could not hold up to scrutiny if the laws were applied as strictly to them as they were to him. The situations of Lugar and Bayh are totally distinct, but you wouldn't know that reading Wilson's elementary-level discussion of the issues.
The crux of White's argument regarding Bayh and Lugar is that they live in the Washington, D.C., metro area but vote in Indiana. Lugar doesn't own a home in Indiana — he sold his Marion County home in 1977. His residency has prompted Hoosiers for Conservative Senate, which is backing Lugar challenger Richard Mourdock, to ask the Indiana Election Commission to rule Lugar's candidacy invalid.
White maintains that is essentially the same thing he was convicted of doing.
But the Indiana Constitution provides that "no person shall be deemed to have lost his residence in the state by reason of his absence either on business of this state or of the United States."
In 1982, then-Indiana Attorney General Linley Pearson cited that law in a legal opinion upholding Lugar's state residency despite the sale of his home.
"If such a person was entitled to vote in this state prior to departing for service in Congress, whatever residence that person possessed for voting purposes prior to such departure remains his or her residence," Pearson wrote. "There is no requirement that a person maintain a house, apartment, or any fixed physical location."
Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued a statement last week saying that his office concurred with the 1982 opinion.
William Kubik, a professor of political science at Hanover College, said White's argument that senators who vote in their home state while serving in Washington commit voter fraud is "completely specious."
"White's argument would mean that active duty military personnel would be ineligible for absentee ballots in Indiana," Kubik said.
The Marion County prosecutor in October turned down White's request for an independent investigation of his vote fraud allegations against Bayh, saying White provided no evidence showing that Bayh and his wife have given up their Indianapolis residence despite continuing to live in Washington since Bayh's Senate term ended last year.
Notice that Wilson, like other reporters, relies on the opinions of political science professors who are neither lawyers nor apparently persons knowledgeable of the U.S. Constitution, which alone sets the eligibility requirements for serving in the Senate. It doesn't matter what the Indiana Constitution says; a senator must be an inhabitant when he is elected. Sen. Lugar has continuously presented himself to the voters of this state since his first election in 1976 as an inhabitant of the state despite the fact that he gave up a residence here in 1977 when he sold his home. Lugar admits he stays in hotels during the few days he spends in the state each year. To call White's argument that Lugar is no longer an inhabitant of the state as "completely specious," is a non-sequitur.

It is also not a given that Lugar is even permitted to cast votes from an address at which he no longer has an interest as his registered voting address because of the state constitutional provision referred to in Wilson's story. That law is intended to prevent people in service to the federal government from losing their claim to residency within the state because they primarily reside elsewhere as a result of their official duties. Because senators and representatives must be inhabitants of their states, they still must maintain some form of residence within their states, even if it is not their primary residence. Lugar is the only member of Indiana's congressional delegation who does not have a home or apartment to rely upon in the state to claim he is an inhabitant and to use as a physical address for voting purposes. As I've noted before, the U.S. Constitution does not even require senators and representatives to be registered voters of their states. Nonetheless, if they choose to register to vote in their states, they need to meet the lenient standard defined in numerous court decisions for meeting residency requirements for voting registration requirements. I predict our state's Supreme Court will reiterate the long-established law on residency when it reverses Marion Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg's decision late last year ordering White removed from office.

Bayh's case is totally different from Lugar's case. Bayh no longer is in service to the state of Indiana since he left the Senate in January, 2011 so he cannot avail himself of the state's constitutional provision allowing him to reside primarily in Washington but registering and casting votes from a condominium in Indiana at which he never resides. Just ask the neighbors in the condominium community where he claims a homestead exemption if you doubt me. They have no idea Bayh is their neighbor because he doesn't stay there when he visits Indiana. Like Lugar, he stays in hotels when he visits the state. Marion Co. Prosecutor Terry Curry didn't even bother to investigate the charges White made that Bayh and his wife were committing vote fraud by voting from that address; he simply dismissed them out of hand without conducting any inquiry.

The facts are somewhat different for Gov. Daniels. Under the Indiana Constitution, the state's governor is required to reside at the state's capitol in Indianapolis. Daniels admits he primarily resides at his home in Carmel, but as White points out, he is claiming the governor's residence as his voting address and casting votes from there.

Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said the governor's office was confident that he was following the law. She told The Associated Press that Daniels "stays at the residence occasionally and conducts meetings and other events there."
White's point is that he was ordered removed from office and convicted of vote fraud for using his ex-wife's home as his voting address for a few month period while he was in between marriages and permanent homes. The evidence before the Recount Commission showed White stayed at his ex-wife's home several nights a week where his son over whom he exercised parenting time resided, received mail there and used it as his address for obtaining a driver's license. White's ties to his ex-wife's home were arguably greater than Daniels' claim to reside at the governor's residence. Yet one has been forced from office and convicted of felonies, while the other remains in office and the public reassured is abiding by state laws.

I realize it's quite inconvenient for mainstream media reporters to get into the meat of these issues involving Bayh, Lugar and Daniels. It doesn't fit their meme that White did something horribly wrong that is so much different than what other prominent politicians have done forever and are still doing. They dislike White and have no qualms about couching their stories in terms that always make him out to be a bad person, while claiming their favored politicians are being unfairly criticized when the tables are turned on them. White is the real victim here. The public, too, is a victim because it has been repeatedly denied accurate information and dispassionate judgment by those reporting on these issues.

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