We have an ongoing legal battle in West Virginia over where Governor Jim Justice should live.
There was another hearing yesterday in Kanawha County Circuit Court on the question of whether to send to the state Supreme Court a series of questions about the residency issue, which has been brought by Democratic Delegate Isaac Sponaugle.
Here’s what the state constitution says: The Governor and constitutional officers “shall reside at the seat of government during their terms in office.” Another section of the state constitution reads, “The seat of government shall be at Charleston, until otherwise provided by law.”
What’s confusing about that?
Sure, lawyers can parse the wording endlessly. If Bill Clinton can ask for an interpretation of “is” then a skilled attorney can have a field day with the word “reside.” But the rest of us would have no disagreement over what the words mean.
Beyond the constitutional requirement, as a practical matter the Governor should live in Charleston, in the Governor’s mansion, and go to work at his State Capitol office. Justice lives in Lewisburg and makes the long commute (most days).
Justice argues that no matter where he is, he’s on the job—24/7—and that his critics are just trying to make political hay. One should never rule out political motivations of opponents, however, the Governor opened himself up for criticism by ignoring the constitution.
But what judge is going to tell the Governor where he should live, and if a court would rule that Justice should be residing in Charleston, then the issue becomes complicated to the point of absurdity.
Does “reside” mean every day? Most days? Three days a week? A specific number of hours? How would the “reside” time be tracked? Should the Governor have to punch a time clock or have someone keeping tabs on where he sleeps?
What if the Governor fails to follow the rules for residing? Would a judge threaten him with a fine? Order him to stay at the mansion? Put an ankle bracelet on Justice that alerts the police if he leaves town?
The state constitution section on where the Governor shall reside is clear but legally difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. There is, however, a remedy.
The next gubernatorial election is in 2020 and the campaign is already underway. Several of the Governor’s challengers are making an issue of Justice’s status as a commuter Governor. Soon the voters will decide whether they believe Justice is getting the job done, regardless of where he sleeps at night.