Supreme Court nullifies House race over residency dispute

Published 10:35 am Friday, September 9, 2016

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday declared a Republican state lawmaker ineligible to run for a fourth term because he doesn’t live in his district and scheduled a February special election to fill the seat.

Rep. Bob Barrett had fought accusations about his residency for years, overcoming a similar challenge in 2014 that alleged he lived in a neighboring district. But Democratic activists who sought to have Barrett’s name tossed from the ballot in November repeatedly visited the address listed as his home inside the district — a Taylors Falls rental house — and set up a motion-sensitive camera to show that it wasn’t being used.

Barrett owns a home in Shafer, just outside of the Chisago County district he represents.

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The Supreme Court sided with those petitioners on the residency dispute following a lower court’s similar ruling. But the court set a special election in to fill his seat, citing a state law requiring a special election if a candidate is found ineligible within a few months of Election Day.

Barrett issued a statement that called the ruling disappointing and noted it would end his career in the Legislature that began in 2010. Minnesota law requires candidates to establish residency six months before an election.

“I will very much miss serving the families of Chisago County as their elected representative and I am hoping our family’s privacy can be re-gained which is worth more to us than holding elected office,” Barrett said.

Barrett’s residency trouble could complicate House Republicans’ efforts to retain their majority this fall. His district is reliably Republican, but low-turnout special elections can prove unpredictable. It also means that the Legislature will begin in early January one member short, with 133 lawmakers.

The names of Barrett and Democratic challenger Laurie Warner will still appear on the November ballot, but the results won’t be counted. It’s unclear who Republicans may pick to run in the special election.

A judge dismissed a similar legal challenge to Barrett’s residency in 2014, citing a lack of solid evidence that he didn’t live inside the district.