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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Where does McMorris Rodgers live?

At least once a week, and more frequently during election season, the newspaper gets a call, a letter, an e-mail or an online comment alleging a scandal about Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Sometimes it comes in a conspiratorial query just above a whisper. Other times it’s stated as a verified fact, written in all-caps with multiple exclamation points. It might come from someone fairly inexperienced in politics who heard it from a friend who heard it from someone else – generally unnamed but usually “in the know.” Occasionally it comes from someone in the campaign wars long enough to be a bit more skeptical but doesn’t seem to care. . .

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. . . It is that McMorris Rodgers, five-term Republican congresswoman for Eastern Washington, doesn’t live in the district she represents. She lives in California, the allegation goes. San Diego, to be specific.

If only reporters would get off our lazy posteriors, some people say and others imply, we could expose this travesty. And presumably the congresswoman would be bounced out of office, because a person can’t live in a different state than the one she represents. (It is possible, by the way, to live outside the district but in the same state, but that’s a completely different topic.)

Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but the congresswoman does not live in San Diego. She lives part of the year in Washington, D.C., in a home a bit more than a mile from Capitol Hill and much of the rest of the year in a home on Spokane’s South Hill. The remainder of the time she’s traveling for meetings, hearings and political events, so she essentially lives out of a suitcase.

In this respect, she is like her two immediate predecessors and the vast majority of members of Congress who don’t come from districts a few hours commute from Washington, D.C.

Although I’ve never found anyone who could cite a source for the San Diego allegation, it likely stems from a misreading of the financial form she files every year as a member of the House or a careless use of Internet search engines. McMorris Rodgers and her husband Brian Rodgers do own a house in San Diego. He’s a Spokane native but was in the Navy for more than 25 years before they were married, and for much of that career was stationed in San Diego, where he eventually bought a house.

After they were married in 2006, the property and the mortgage attached to it became items she is required to list on her financial disclosure forms. So is the rent the tenants pay, because they rent it out rather than letting it sit empty. It is generally flagged on the forms with the letters SP, which means the asset or liability is primarily attributed to a congressperson’s spouse.

If one enters the address of the San Diego home into some search engines that track people, they might spit out the name of Cathy M Rodgers, likely because her name is that way in county assessor’s records. But they will list other names, too, because the rental property has had a string of tenants over the years.

Some people who suggest her residence in San Diego are merely curious about something they’ve heard. But others who insist it is true and repeat it at every turn are tacitly admitting something they don’t dare say aloud: They want to replace McMorris Rodgers, but don’t think her opponent can do so at the ballot box. If she lives somewhere else, she’d be gone, regardless of the vote count on Nov. 4, and someone more to their liking might take her place.

This ignores a fact of Washington electoral law, which essentially says a candidate’s residence is wherever she says it is providing she occupies it for part of the year. And as previously mentioned, McMorris Rodgers and her husband own a home in Spokane, which they occupy for much of the year when not in D.C., and where they are registered to vote. So even if they split their non-D.C. time between Spokane and San Diego at 5 percent for the Lilac City and 95 percent for Diego, they could still legally claim Spokane as their legal residence and no challenge would survive in court.

They don’t, by the way, according to McMorris Rodgers. They were married in San Diego in 2006, and have been back a couple of times since, but have never lived in the house, she said.

So challenge McMorris Rodgers on her multiple votes against the Affordable Care Act or in favor of various Republican budget initiatives. Say she should be replaced for her stance on taxes or abortion or minimum wage or deficit reduction or guns or defense spending. Say she’s too conservative, or even too liberal.

But don’t try to hang one of the nastiest political slurs imaginable in Washington – that she’s a Californian – on her. That dog, as the saying goes, won’t hunt.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.