Minnesota’s highest court is considering whether a state legislator’s name should be removed from the ballot this November because of questions about whether he actually lives in the district he represents.
The case heard Tuesday by the Minnesota Supreme Court concerns Rep. Bob Barrett, a Republican who lists a Taylors Falls home as his official address and owns another home in nearby Shafer, a city located just outside of legislative District 32B. A group of activists who believe that Barrett lives in the Shafer home staked out the Taylors Falls address, gathered what they said was evidence that no one was living on the property and petitioned to get Barrett removed from the ballot in the race against DFL challenger Laurie Warner.
Ramsey County District Judge George Stephenson held a hearing on the matter last month and determined that the evidence in the case establishes “clearly and convincingly that Mr. Barrett did not have the requisite physical presence” at the Taylors Falls address in the time frame required by state law. Legislators must reside in their districts for six months before the election.
Barrett took the case to the Supreme Court, where on Tuesday attorneys for the legislator and for activist Tamara Monaghen made arguments over two separate questions: Does Barrett live in Taylors Falls? And if he doesn’t, should his name be removed from the ballot or should the District 32B results from November be ignored in favor of a special election in February?
“This is not partisan,” said Virginia Stark, the attorney representing Monaghen. “This is about following the [State] Constitution.”
Stark said her client and a team of activists found little sign of Barrett at the home in Taylors Falls during multiple visits in July and August. Monaghen noted that campaign materials left outside the home’s door remained for days — as did a stick she put in the door that would have moved if anyone had gone in or out of the house. The home, according to court documents, is sparsely furnished and does not have cable, internet or trash pickup service. Barrett pays $300 per month in rent on a lease that ends in December.
Barrett did not testify before the Supreme Court. In the earlier hearing, he said that his wife spent a few nights a week at the Taylors Falls home until the spring but that she now lives primarily at the Shafer address because of concerns over “harassment” from “DFL activists.”
The legislator said he does not watch television, uses a hot spot to access the internet and does his laundry at a nearby laundromat. He said he did not sign up for trash collection because the local trash pickup day is Friday and he does not like Friday trash pickups.
He also said that he does not entertain visitors at the Taylors Falls address because he is “not extroverted” and that he has an interest in buying the property, though he had not shared that plan with the property’s owners.
Reid LeBeau, Barrett’s attorney, said the activists — not his client — needed to be able to prove that Barrett does not live in his district. LeBeau said Barrett has been steadfast in his position that he lives in Taylors Falls, even changing his passport and driver’s license to list the address.
LeBeau said the activists deliberately waited to make their claims until the election neared in an attempt to push Barrett out of the race — a strategy he said could become more common if the Supreme Court upheld Stephenson’s earlier decision. “All you have in this case is ‘he said,’ ‘she said,’ by two interested parties,” LeBeau said.
Meanwhile, attorney Stark argued that a state law that would allow the election to go on with Barrett’s name on the ballot — even if the court sided with her client — would be unconstitutional.
In that scenario, if the court agreed that Barrett was not a proper candidate, votes cast in November would be discounted and voters in 32B would vote in a special election to be held in February — rather than Barrett’s name being removed from the November ballot altogether.
Stark said forcing a second election only for voters in 32B would create an unnecessary hardship.
The court will decide the matter at a later date.